Testing has become one of the most important issues during the current Coronavirus pandemic. As COVID-19 spreads around the globe, mass testing helps support getting the latest, most accurate pandemic data. Interim testing sites are popping up nationwide where officials prioritize the testing of first responders and healthcare professionals. Walmart stores and empty parking lots, for example, are being turned into temporary pop-up sites offering drive-through testing. By early April, this list from GoodRx.com showed 484 testing sites.
How Pop-Up Sites Work
Patients call ahead and receive COVID-19 Screening from a doctor who schedules them for testing based on their responses. When patients arrive at the drive-through clinic for their appointments, they are told to keep their car windows rolled up. They get directed through a series of checkpoints, including driving into a white tent and showing their appointment order, photo ID, and insurance card.
In places like hospital parking lots, triage tents are now the entrance for anyone accessing the premises. By evaluating people at the first point of contact, hospitals triage coronavirus patients and separate them into categories depending on their status.
Using Technology for Patient and Specimen Identification
Throughout the testing process, patient identification plays a critical role. Healthcare providers can use technology to make the process more efficient and safe for them, using a mobile device to scan photo IDs to capture patient information. One solution, Precision® Mobile ID from PDC, allows healthcare personnel to scan the ID through a window and then the system automatically prints a barcoded patient ID wristband (if needed) and matching specimen labels. This helps healthcare professionals deliver accurate test results while reducing contact with the patients.
Taking a Specimen
The occupants of the car lower their windows just a crack when told, and tilt their heads back so the healthcare professionals can take a swab, typically from the nose. It’s common for patients to sneeze and/or cough during the process, so testers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize the risk of contracting the virus. Then, the patients roll up the window and drive away. The lab technician attaches the printed label to the sample, puts it into a sterile container, and sends it away for testing.
Screening patients for COVID-19 involves testing the individual’s DNA to find the specific sequence that’s unique to this strain of the virus. The time it takes to receive test results varies by site, but it can take up to 5 to 7 business days. In most states, the results can be accessed online. If a patient tests positive, the lab will inform the Department of Health, which will contact the patient and admit them to a hospital for quarantine. Anyone who has been in close contact with them might also be referred for quarantine. This includes the healthcare professionals administering the tests.
To speed up the testing process, rapid response tests have been developed that can deliver test results in minutes. These will likely be rolled out nationwide as soon as possible.
Relief and Challenges
The drive-thru clinics and on-site triage options have relieved pressure on the hospitals to a degree. Keeping potential COVID-19 patients in their cars and ensuring good ventilation through the facilities reduces the risk of spreading the virus. For all their benefits, however, these initiatives come with their own set of challenges:
- Limited availability of tests, bad weather, and long lines can limit operating hours.
- The collection process is quick and free, but getting the results back takes time.
- Tests are not given to everyone who wants them. Only people with a doctor’s appointment or an increased risk factor are being tested at present.
The goal is to test quickly and accurately to avoid further contamination and to get people back out into the community while keeping healthcare workers “confirmed healthy” and ready to help.