Boone Hospital Center and MU Health Care each opened drive-thru COVID-19 mobile test centers Wednesday.
Five Boone Hospital Center staff members, wearing yellow gowns and face masks, waited for patients in front of the mobile center set up near the emergency room.
The test center opened at noon, and by 1:15 p.m. nine people had been tested, Boone Hospital Center Chief Medical Officer Robin Blount said at Wednesday afternoon news conference.
MU’s test collection facility, located in the softball stadium parking lot, opened later in the afternoon and will accept patients from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, according to an MU press release. Boone Hospital Center also has the same weekday hours, but it has yet to set weekend hours.
Both Boone Hospital Center and MU require patients wanting to use the drive-thru service to have been assessed by a provider and have a physician’s order before they are screened. MU allows for the assessment to be either in a clinic or through a video.
Per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are eligible for testing include those with a fever, cough and sore throat plus those with exposure to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 and those who’ve recently traveled to areas where community transmission is occurring, MU said.
While she is unsure of the number of patients Boone Hospital Center has tested, Blount said she thinks the number “will change dramatically” with more testing availability.
“Frankly, it was very difficult to get testing done initially because we could only test through the state, and the state required a significant amount of discussion on the front end ,” she said.
Once the state lifted its criteria, Blount said, Boone Hospital Center has taken advantage of the changes.
For people who have COVID-19 symptoms, Blount suggested using the drive-thru testing center instead of the emergency room. Testing in the ER “isn’t the best thing,” she said, because it can bog down care that people in emergency situations require.
The drive-thru is located south of the hospital’s Emergency Department entrance on the southwest side. Patients should enter from Anthony Street, according to a Boone Hospital Center news release.
MU officials, like Blount, emphasized that the new collection sites are for those with mild symptoms and who do not need to go to the emergency room.
“This increases our capacity to care for those with more severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, in our Emergency Department,” said Jonathan Heidt, MU Health Care emergency physician, adding that people with severe symptoms should call ahead to the ER. “This will ensure health care staff are prepared for the individual’s arrival and can minimize their contact with others.”
Heidt described how the MU testing site would operate: Patients will pull in, be greeted and registered. Then, a health care professional will activate the order for the test. The specimen will be obtained via a swab in the nose, which takes no more than a few seconds.
Staff will be equipped with personal protective equipment.
For patients who visit the MU drive-thru without any prior assessment, staff at the location can assess patients based on a “pre-designed screening protocol.”
“If they have not yet been screened, there is a possibility of them receiving that test,” Heidt said. “But, again, we would still recommend they first call their primary care physician or utilize the virtual urgent care to determine if they would meet those screening criteria.”
Boone Hospital Center does not require out-of-pocket cost, but patients must bring their driver’s licenses and insurance cards. MU, however, has a lab fee, though it is normally covered by a patients insurance, MU Health Care media relations strategist Eric Maze said.
After the patient is tested at either drive-thru center, the swab is then sent to a local lab.
It can take between 24 to 36 hours for results, and during the waiting period, symptomatic patients are to stay home in self-quarantine and follow prevention procedures laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blount said. Testing turnaround time is also dependent on whether the lab becomes backed up, Blount said.
MU Health Care is also sending its testing kits to the same lab. Heidt said MU Health Care is partnering with GeneTrait Laboratories, a medical laboratory in Columbia, for this week to run the tests.
Heidt said MU Health Care was expecting turnaround of results from GeneTrait Laboratories to be within 24 hours. He said that the supply of testing kits is stable for now but that MU Health Care would “continue to look for new sources.”
A Wednesday news release said Boone Hospital Center is also working on a local testing site that could provide results in a day.