Drive-Thru Coronavirus Test Centers Are Coming, But First They Need Test Kits

Colorado, Connecticut and the University of Washington are using the procedure to a limited degree.

There’s a nationwide shortage of coronavirus test kits. But at least in the states of Colorado and Connecticut and at the University of Washington, the limited tests available are being administered in a slightly smarter fashion: via drive-thru.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment opened the state’s first drive-up coronavirus testing center in a parking lot in east Denver. The state says the tests are being administered for free so long as people have a photo ID and a doctor’s note ordering the procedure.

More than 160 people were tested on the first day, and lines on Thursday stretched into the range of three to four hours.

According to the Colorado health department, the state has 44 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, most of them clustered in Aspen and the Denver metro area.

Similar efforts are underway in Connecticut, where the Hartford Courant reports hospitals and clinics in Hartford and New Haven are experimenting with drive-thru testing.

The University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle also introduced a drive-thru test center last Friday. The center has the capacity to administer 40 to 50 tests a day, which are so far limited to UW employees and students.

There are two good reasons to expect to see more drive-thrus like these nationally: They’re efficient, and they reduce health care workers’ unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus. Health care workers are also in limited supply.

Health care workers test people for COVID-19 at Colorado's first drive-up testing center in Denver.
Health care workers test people for COVID-19 at Colorado's first drive-up testing center in Denver.

“What we’ve learned from viruses like SARS and other coronaviruses is they can really rapidly disseminate through a hospital and cripple a health care workforce,” Dr. Seth Cohen, medical director for infection prevention at UW Medicine, told Seattle’s KIRO. “We’re trying to stay ahead of it and prevent that from happening.”

The other major benefit of drive-thrus ― the ability to test large groups of people efficiently ― won’t be fully realized until there are enough test kits to administer to large groups of people.

For comparison’s sake, in South Korea ― where the drive-thru model has been employed ― nearly 20,000 people a day are tested for coronavirus. In the U.S., on March 6 ― the last day for which accurate numbers are available ― the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested 16 people and other public health labs tested another 1,155.

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