July 19, 2024 2:22 pm

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COVID-19 drive-thru testing: How does it work?

by Erin Freeman

You have a fever; you’re coughing continuously and are experiencing shortness of breath. You suspect that you may have been infected with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). What happens next?

The Washington State Department of Health (WSDH) hasn’t placed restrictions on COVID-19 testing but recommends that a focus remains on symptomatic individuals with an increased risk of exposure or severe illness. 

The Snohomish Health District has administered testing requirements at the newly opened drive-thru testing center at Everett Memorial Stadium. As of March 23, the facility is only open to symptomatic individuals at high-risk of severe infection or those working in essential services. 

“Testing is only available to people who have symptoms and meet the criteria,” said Snohomish Health District’s Communications Coordinator Kari Bray in a blog post. “We have limited resources. We have to prioritize. For people who mild symptoms, are not at high risk, and are not working in a job that provides critical services, a positive test result would not change how they should handle their illness.”

An individual’s appointment eligibility is deciphered through online mandatory screening, according to the Snohomish Health District. The intake form asks a series of questions regarding experienced symptoms, employment industry, age, and any existing health conditions. Eligible individuals will be provided with a testing identifier number, and an appointment time within that same week.  

At the drive-thru testing site, local law enforcement monitors the entrance. Health District staff and volunteers meet vehicles at the check-in point, where people must show their appointment confirmation, assigned identification number, and photo ID. They are then directed to drive to a tent, where medical professionals will administer the test through the vehicle’s window. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the preferred testing of COVID-19 is through the collection of an upper respiratory specimen. Medical professionals obtain this sample through a nasal and/or oral swab. For patients who have developed a wet cough, a sample of sputum will also be collected to test lower respiratory tract specimens. 

The entire COVID-19 testing process takes about 15 minutes according to Bray. The drive-thru location expects to test 180 to 200 people every day. 

All the samples are shipped overnight to a commercial or private lab with the capacity to process tests according to the WSDH. Once they arrive, the vials of the specimen are unpacked and sorted. A technician then separates each sample to extract the genetic material found in viruses. According to LabCorp, a global life science company processing testing kits in Washington, the nucleic acid amplification test (NAA) detects the presence of the underlying virus that causes COVID-19. After performing a series of procedures, technicians are able to identify if a patient has tested positive or negative for COVID-19. 

People will typically receive their results between three to five days after being tested through a phone call or text message states Bray. 

For more information on the Snohomish Health District’s drive-thru testing, visit www.snohd.org/drive-thru-testing.

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