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Colorado’s Drive-Thru Coronavirus Testing Faces Early Challenges

Posted On March 14, 2020 at 1:56 pm by / No Comments

Surgical Face Masks The wait Thursday for the test was three hours long, and the facility had to be closed Friday due to weather.

By Casey Leins, Staff Writer March 13, 2020, at 5:40 p.m. More

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Healthcare workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment check in with people waiting to be tested for COVID-19 at the state's first drive-up testing center on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The testing center is free and available to anyone who has a note from a doctor confirming they meet the criteria to be tested for the virus.

Healthcare workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment check in with people waiting to be tested for COVID-19 at the state’s first drive-up testing center on Thursday in Denver.(Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

A Colorado program that allows residents to get tested for the coronavirus at drive-thru facilities got off to a bumpy start this week, when demand quickly outpaced capacity and cold weather forced the closure of the site.

The drive-thru clinic, modeled on similar setups popping up in South Korea in which medical staff dressed in protective gear swab patients’ throats and noses and check for a fever or breathing difficulty, opened Wednesday in the Denver neighborhood of Lowry. The clinics are generally located in the parking lots of medical facilities, and the testing process takes about 10 minutes. The template is being eyed for use nationwide, and the White House announced during a Friday news conference that Walmart had agreed to offer parts of store parking lots for similar programs.

Colorado health officials said Friday that their facility – located in the parking lot of the Department of Public Health and Environment’s lab – had tested 650 people in the days since it opened. As of Friday morning, the state had 72 positive cases of the coronavirus.

Photos: Washington State Confronts COVID-19

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - MARCH 10: The Pike Place Market sits virtually empty of patrons on March 10, 2020 in downtown Seattle, Washington. The historic farmer's market is Seattle's most popular tourist attraction, and business has been especially hard hit by coronavirus fears.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

But with only one drive-thru site, which is open four hours a day, more Colorado patients are lining up than testing staff can handle. The office of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Thursday that the site had to turn away patients because it reached capacity after wait times exceeded approximately three hours by 11 a.m. The drive-thru testing was closed Friday, due to cold weather, which can reduce the effectiveness of the testing staff’s personal protective equipment, according to the public health department. The site is expected to reopen Saturday, weather permitting.

Not all residents who suspect they’ve been infected are allowed in line. Patients must first get a doctor’s order, which means they have to show signs of the virus. Additionally, patients must be considered “high risk,” which could mean that they either live in a retirement home, are a first responder or have a chronic medical condition, according to Route Fifty.

The drive-thru limits infected patients’ interactions with others in hospitals and waiting rooms, and it also limits their contact with medical personnel. The testing is free and does not require proof of insurance.[ 

READ: Trump Declares National Emergency Amid Coronavirus Pandemic ]

The state also has a limited number of testing kits, though the federal government promised to send 1,500 more this week, Route Fifty reported.

“A proper containment effort will require thousands or tens of thousands of tests administered each day,” Polis said at a press conference Wednesday. “I’m really calling on the federal government and our private-sector partners to do everything they can to exponentially scale testing as immediately as we can to help us limit the spread effectively.”

According to Route Fifty, hospitals in Minnesota, Utah, Connecticut, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area have set up similar models for testing patients outdoors.

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