Going to a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site? Here's a step-by-step look at what to expect

Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, VA demonstrates how its drive-thru collection process for COVID-19 testing works. USA TODAY

Drive-thru coronavirus testing sites are popping up across the country in states including Delaware, New York, Massachusetts and Texas. Over the next few days, 47 of these sites will be set up in approximately 12 states, testing czar Brett Giroir told reporters at a press conference earlier this week.

In Virginia, a hospital has helped set up a temporary drive-thru coronavirus testing site at a county-owned property across from Washington-Liberty High School.

The site opened Wednesday to collect samples from Arlington residents, Arlington County Government employees and Arlington Public Schools employees, and patients of VHC Medical Staff who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Before arriving on site, patients must make an appointment with their physician to get a doctor's orders for testing. Once they have that, they must call the Virginia Hospital Center's scheduling line to make an appointment for drive-thru testing. Drive-thru testing is only for patients who have symptoms like a fever, chills, cough, or shortness of breath. Otherwise, they will be turned away.

What can you expect when you actually pull up for testing? Here's a step-by-step look at what the process is like for patients in Virginia.

Arrival: Keep windows up, have orders, ID and insurance card ready

When patients arrive at the site, they are guided by road signs directing them to keep their windows up and follow a series of cones. At their first checkpoint, individuals speaking to them through bullhorns ask to see confirmation of their doctor's orders and appointment time. 

Once that is confirmed, they pull forward into a white tent where the head of the VHC's lab uses a microphone to remind them to keep their window up and asks how many people in the car will be getting tested. 

Patients are then asked to hold their photo ID and insurance card, if they have one, up to the window for a picture.

Get tested: Crack window and get swabbed

A label is then printed for their sample as the patient drives through to the next tent. There, a lab technician asks them to roll their window down just a crack, tilt their head back and the back of their throat is swabbed. Patients can then roll up their window and drive off.

The sample is put into a sterile container and sent to a lab, where a chemical is used to pull the cells off the swab and turn the sample into a liquid form. That liquid is then put into a machine that goes through hot and cold cycles to make multiple copies of the virus’ ribonucleic acid, which carries genetic information. The machine looks to match the person’s RNA with the coronavirus RNA to determine a positive or negative result.

How long does a coronavirus test take?

If there are no lines, the drive-thru process takes about 10 minutes, according to Melody Dickerson, VHC's senior vice president and chief nursing officer. Patients can expect test results in five to seven business days.

"People will often ask, you know, 'what should I do while I’m waiting for my test result' and 'what should I do if I find out that I’m positive' and the answer is really the same: Stay home," Dickerson said. "Quarantine yourself, stay away from your loved ones and making sure you do frequent cleaning of all your solid surfaces."

How many people can get tested each day?

Dickerson said that when the testing site opened Wednesday, they were able to test about 60 people. On Thursday, 24 patients had made appointments, though she expects that number to rise. She added that about 100 people had left messages on their scheduling line's answering machine, which they plan to turn off.

"This morning we made the decision to go from 6 tests per hour to 10 tests per hour," Dickerson said Thursday. "If we can add more tests, then we will add more tests. We just want to make sure we don’t overwhelm the staff."

Many who arrived for tests were turned away for not having all the proper requirements. One of those people was David Juras, 58. Juras came to get a test for his 19-year-old daughter, Olivia, who had just gotten home from Scotland, where students at her school were sick.

When he arrived Thursday with an order from his daughter's pediatrician, he was turned away because he didn't have an appointment. He said he was frustrated that he saw only one car drive through the site as he sat in his car on hold waiting to make an appointment.

Contributing: Jorge Ortiz

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/03/20/drive-thru-coronavirus-testing-step-step-look-what-expect/2873324001/

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