Drive-thru sites have been opened in the United States to make testing the new coronavirus faster and safer. But just like the rest of the United States’ response to the pandemic, the system has been characterized by inconsistencies, delays and shortcomings. Many people who have symptoms and a doctor’s order have waited hours or days for a test.
More than a week after President Donald Trump promised that states and retail stores such as Walmart and CVS would open drive-through test centers, few sites are active and are not yet open to the public. Some states are leaving the test sector open to the private sector; others are coordinating efforts through state health departments.
Patients complained that they had to jump through bulky red tape and wait for days to get tested, then wait even longer for a result. The test centers were opened in some places to be closed shortly afterwards due to the shortage of supplies and staff. And while the drive-through test centers that have been opened are generally sorted, in some there have been long lines.
The slow increase in COVID-19 tests and the unpredictable nature of the system make it difficult for public health officials to track the spread of the disease and bring it under control.
“We need to do more extensive testing to fully understand the scale of the public health situation we are facing,” said Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Dr Brett Giroir, the federal health officer in charge of overseeing the tests, said on Saturday at a White House briefing that approximately 195,000 people have so far been tested in the United States. This figure does not include some people who have been tested in private laboratories.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more serious illnesses, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness can take anywhere from three weeks to six weeks to recover.
Drive-through test sites have sprung up in places in over 30 states: in state parks and parking lots, near medical centers and universities, the Mississippi state fairgrounds, and near where the Jacksonville Jaguars play. The governor of Maryland last week ordered the stopping of vehicle emission inspection programs across the state, so that the offices could be used as drive-thru centers to test the virus.
But as of Friday, there were no open drive-through tests available in Maryland inspection centers.
The Utah health department said it is not responsible for the sites and is not monitoring them. The North Carolina health director said the state is leaving the tests to the private sector and declined to say how many sites there are. In contrast, in Rhode Island, health organizations manage the sites in collaboration with the state health department.
On Thursday, cars lined up for more than a mile outside a hospital in Houston when the first drive-through test site was opened. U.S. representative Sheila Jackson Lee said she administered fewer than 200 tests in the first six hours.
Elsewhere, at various sites visited by Associated Press reporters, the scenes were well controlled and sometimes quite silent.
Dozens of people waiting by car in a downtown Homestead, Florida on Wednesday waited for their turn to speak with a screener who was wearing a suit and mask and carrying notes. Some were apparently removed. Others were stirred, checked their temperatures, and swabbed for the samples.
But the shortage of supply has stopped the thrusters in several states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina and Utah. A Las Vegas site was shut down because it didn’t have enough workers.
New York state opened several centers with great fanfare on Tuesday. By Friday, however, the New York City health department issued a warning saying that only people requesting hospitalization should be tested, due to a shortage of protective equipment such as face masks. Drive-thru sites in New York State remain open, but only to people who meet certain criteria.
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said he had asked the federal government for additional test kits and supplies, but the state received a warning Thursday that all of its requests for drive-through test pods and test kits “are undefined arrears, without any estimate of a timeline for delivery. “
“This is our unfortunate Nevada reality. It depends on us, “he said.
The sites themselves are dotted with tents and traffic cones. The most important features are medical personnel who wear masks, gloves and protective vests or other clothing. They take nose and throat swabs from people sitting in their cars or help people get in for the test.
Some states have only one drive-thru site. Montana’s only site is in Billings, the largest city in the state. Others have a dozen.
Security guards have been reported on many sites, but an AP survey of states did not reveal any security concerns. In Rhode Island, the National Guard was on hand to set up the state’s three drive-thru sites and even to buffer patients.
The vast network of drive-thru sites in retail chains that Trump claimed was coming over a week ago has not materialized yet. CVS has opened a site in Massachusetts that defines a “test model”. Walmart launched two sites on Sunday and Walgreens said it will launch one, all three in Illinois. Only healthcare professionals and first responders are allowed, and Walmart said that a maximum of 150 tests per day could be performed on its federal sites.
The patchwork of approaches has caused confusion for patients. Caroline Mauldin was sentenced to get tested by her doctor in Charleston, South Carolina on Tuesday after suffering from pain and chills for several days.
To make an appointment at a center in a medical center, she had to fill out a long online questionnaire and spent two days calling a number that went to voicemail and did not answer messages. He resorted to tweets in the hospital several times just to get things going.
Finally, on Thursday, he had an appointment for Monday. And she was told that the results would not return until after 4-5 days. The visit will cost you $ 25, he said. Complicating things, he doesn’t have a car and has to borrow it from a friend.
“Here we have a lot of older, low-income people who don’t have Internet access and who don’t have access to transportation. And since they’re the highest risk population, how are we testing for them?” She asked.
In urban areas such as New York and Philadelphia, some sites offer “walk-up” dating for people without cars.
At the Penn Medicine test site in West Philadelphia, two security agents were late on Thursday to make sure that people arriving by car or on foot had an appointment. For about 40 minutes that evening, the line of cars never grew to more than six or seven. But Patricia Sullivan, Penn Medicine’s quality manager, said every morning last week, 25-35 cars were lined up and six or seven standing patients were 6 feet apart on a porch waiting to be seen.
The 20 sites in Greater Philadelphia are testing around 1,000 people a day, but that hasn’t eliminated pent-up demand.
Rosanne Tanner’s 79-year-old mother has been suffering from fever and chest pain since returning from a visit to Tanner’s brother and wife, who had recently been on a cruise ship.
His doctor ordered a test on Tuesday, but when he tried to make an appointment at a drive-through site in a hospital outside of Philadelphia, he was told that “they are overloaded, they are bogged down,” Tanner said.
Medical staff told her that they are scheduling 15 minutes apart, so there are no bottlenecks on the test site.
Finally on Thursday his mother made sure of an appointment for the following Tuesday. Then, he will have to wait another five days for a result.
“The delay in these tests is putting people at risk,” said Tanner.
In Rhode Island, state officials said they are testing 100 to 200 people per day at all test sites, including three drive thrusters.
Governor Gina Raimondo said they want to perform 500 to 600 a day, but they don’t have the supplies they need.
“It is our top priority to reach a place where everyone who needs it can be tested and you will get results very quickly,” said Raimondo during a press conference held on Facebook Live on Friday on Friday. “So if you’re positive, we can quarantine you.”
Associate press writers Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas, Lynne Sladky in Homestead, Florida, Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia, Chris Ehrmann in Hartford, Connecticut, Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina and Anne D ‘Innocenzio and Mike Sisak in New York contributed to this report.
The Associated Press receives support for health and scientific coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.