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ARLINGTON, Virginia — A drive-through site where people had their throats swabbed and samples taken for COVID-19 testing has opened for business outside the nation's capital.
About 60 samples were collected Wednesday over six hours on the first day of operations in Arlington County, Virginia. It's expected to take five to seven business days for results from outlying labs conducting the testing, officials said.
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The drive-through site is open only to county residents and specified others, amid a push to erect such facilities from coast to coast. The goal of drive-through coronavirus collection sites is to keep potentially infected people away from emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, where infection could be spread to patients and health care workers.
"The entire process takes about 10 minutes, start to finish,” said Melody Dickerson, chief nursing officer at Virginia Hospital Center, which is collecting the samples amid strict security protocols. The testing site is about a mile and a half from the hospital to prevent exposure within the facility.
How drive-through testing works
The collection of a specimen is similar to what occurs when you're checked for strep throat. Symptomatic patients are being tested, based on symptoms including fevers, chills, cough or shortness of breath. Lacking these conditions, you should not expect to be tested even if you have had “close contact with a known COVID patient,” according to the hospital.
What you need in order to get tested for COVID-19:
- You need an order from a licensed health care provider. Physicians are being told to send the order electronically, using Epic software, or by fax to the Virginia Hospital Center's outpatient lab (703-558-2448).
- You need an appointment. The site — in a nondescript county building across from a large high school — is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. People may not simply drive up without first making an appointment. And they must drive up in a private motor vehicle; no cabs, scooters, bicycles or foot traffic, for example.
More key points on testing process:
- The specimen collection occurs in a tent that is sealed off from public view.
- Patients remain in private motor vehicles with the windows up until the sample is collected. They are asked to tilt their heads back and a medical swab stick is inserted into the back of their mouths to collect saliva and mucous. The sterile swab has a cotton tip, and the sample is taken near a patient's tonsils.
- Strict safety protocols are being followed at what is technically a drive-through collection site, not a testing site. Testing is being done in off-site labs. Medical personnel at the drive-through site wear protective gear. Neon orange traffic cones guide traffic toward the tent, but motorists without an order and appointment are turned away and told to make a U-turn.
- No one under the age of 18 is being tested at this site. Virginia Hospital Center is telling parents of children who have symptoms and may need testing to visit its emergency department.
The opening day's results exceeded expectations. “Today we were able to successfully collect specimens from about 60 Arlington County residents,” she said, noting 22 appointments already have been made for then next day.