The tests are fast—but that's not the main reason why they're so important.

By Leah Groth
March 16, 2020

On Friday, President Donald Trump announced that the coronavirus outbreak is now a national emergency in the United States—and in an effort to get a hold on COVID-19, he announced a new plan to implement drive-through testing in critical locations: "The goal is for individuals to be able to drive up and be swabbed without having to leave your car," President Trump said during Friday's news conference in the Rose Garden.

Of course, the idea of drive-through testing isn't a new one: South Korea implemented a drive-through testing program when their coronavirus cases began to rise—and while the country hasn't defeated the virus, the drive-through testing has helped to reduce cases and fatalities. "I think our approach was right," professor Lee Hyukmin of the Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul told NPR, adding that the coronavirus situation in Daegu, South Korea—the epicenter of the country's coronavirus outbreak—is being stabilized.

New York State has also begun to roll out these drive-through testing facilities—specifically in New Rochelle, New York, where a coronavirus outbreak cluster emerged early on. "The New Rochelle drive-through will required an appointment for testing," Jon R. Cohen, MD, executive chairman of BioReference Laboratories which partnered with the New York State Department of Health on the testing procedure, tells Health. While "New Rochelle residents are being prioritized," says Dr. Cohen, the drive-through facility is open to all Westchester Country residents. Other states, including Colorado, Connecticut, and Washington state have also set up drive-through facilities to test for coronavirus. 

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What happens during a drive-through coronavirus test?

The process for drive-through testing is pretty simple, but it's not quite as easy as driving up to a facility if you're having symptoms. In a Friday news conference, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shared that, for the New Rochelle testing center, New Rochelle residents must call ahead to make an appointment at the mobile testing center. Governor Cuomo said that the New Rochelle testing facility began testing 200 people per day, working its way up to 500 people per day.

According to PBS, there are six lanes currently operating for coronavirus testing. Residents drive up in their cars, and medical staff (clad in full protective gear) comes to administer the swab test—the entire procedure takes about 15 minutes. After the test, the swabs are sent to a laboratory for testing, usually with results within 24 hours, according to CBS New York. Those who are tested are asked to self-quarantine until they're aware of their results (if they're found to be positive, they'll be asked to take medical precautions and further self-isolate).

Of course, while the expedited testing process is only one important factor of drive-through testing—the safety of medical providers, other residents, and keeping those who are experiencing mild symptoms from flooding emergency rooms is also an important part of the testing process. According to Standford Medicine, which has also opened a drive-through testing clinic of its own, these facilities can accommodate more patients in a safer, more effective manner. "It’s really a much faster and safer solution,” Maja Artandi, MD, medical director of Stanford's Express Care clinics said in a news release. "The patient is not going to expose anybody else. The clinic is not going to be exposed."

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Which states are offering drive-through coronavirus tests?

Only a handful of states currently have a form of drive-through coronavirus testing available for at-risk people who are currently showing symptoms. According to White House officials, via NPR, the US currently has more than 10 states that have adopted drive-through testing for coronavirus—all of which have their own policies as to when and who should get tested:

New York

New Rochelle—the site of the United States' first coronavirus cluster—began drive-through testing on Saturday, according to amNY. The testing location is located on Glen Island Park, and is by appointment-only, prioritizing New Rochelle residents and Westchester County residents who are part of the high-risk population. To make an appointment, call 888-364-3065. Officials have reportedly begun considering opening alternate sites throughout New York State, including New York City.

Colorado

In Colorado, the Department of Public Health and Environment lab set up a drive-through testing facility in their parking lot in Lowry, Colorado. According to U.S. News & World Report, the facility had tested 650 people in two days and found 72 positive cases of coronavirus. Check the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's website for updates on drive-through testing in the state.

Washington

The University of Washington opened a drive-through testing site at UW Medical in North Seattle, according to KIRO7. As of March 9, the testing facility was only available to employees and students, but the university mentioned plans to expand testing to first responders, employees at long-term care facilities, and UW patients showing symptoms of coronavirus.

Connecticut

Connecticut-based hospitals—Greenwich Hospital, Stamford Hospital, and Bristol Hospital—are currently using drive-through testing or planning to start, according to WSHU Public Radio. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont told the outlet that only people who have doctor's orders will be tested, and that if residents are feeling sick, they should call their doctors to find out if testing is necessary.

California

Stanford Health Care is offering drive-through testing by appointment, according to a news release by Stanford Medicine. The tests will be provided to patients referred by their health care providers based on symptoms and exposure.

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Minnesota

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota began drive-through testing for coronavirus cases on Thursday, according to the Post Bulletin. "Patients will need to have a phone screening first to determine if testing is appropriate. Then, patients will be directed to the drive-thru location if it is appropriate for them to have testing," wrote Mayo spokesperson Ginger Plumbo, via the newspaper. "We are not charging anything extra for the drive-thru."

Texas

According to the Texas Tribune, Parkland Health & Hospitals System in Dallas began drive-through coronavirus testing Monday. For now, testing is by appointment-only for Parkland patients, first-responders, and health care workers who have been interviewed by phone. San Antonio also opened a drive-through coronavirus testing facility last week, only open to first responders and health care workers.

Pennsylvania

Drive-through coronavirus testing opened Monday at the University of Pennsylvania, according to CBS Philly. The testing is open for those who are sent by their doctors.

Florida

The Palm Beach Post reported Monday that the Palm Springs opened its first drive-through coronavirus testing site on Monday via the non-profit health center FoundCare. The testing is by appointment-only, but, per the Palm Beach Post, the demand for tests is high: More than 1,200 people called to be tested in the first hours upon opening, and the site only has about 150 tests to dole out over the next few days.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also announced Sunday plans to open another drive-through coronavirus testing facility at a hospital in Broward County, Florida, according to WSVN News, but did not reveal a date.

Massachusetts

Not necessarily "drive-through" sites, multiple hospitals in Massachusetts—including South Shore Health, UMass Memorial, and Newton-Wellesley—have opened testing tents for patients who suspect they have coronavirus, according to CBS Boston. If a patient gets the OK from their doctor, they are asked to pull up their car near the emergency room entrance, and meet a doctor at the tents a few feet away from that entrance, to limit contact with those visiting the hospitals for other issues.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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