Chesapeake ERgent Care in Gambrills started one of Anne Arundel County’s first drive-up coronavirus testing sites this week.
Patients can stay in their car and get tested for flu, strep throat, respiratory infection and, if they qualify, the COVID-19 test.
Drive-through coronavirus testing sites are popping up across the country and Maryland as a method to quickly test people while minimizing interactions that could spread COVID-19. Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday the highly contagious disease has infected 107 people in Maryland and killed one man from Prince George’s County Wednesday.
“People don’t want to contaminate other people. They know that they’re sick and they know they’re contagious so they want to stay in their car,” said Dr. Ron Elfenbein, medical director and owner of Chesapeake ERgent Care.
Chesapeake ERgent Care, like all medical centers in the country, is working with a limited number of tests. The urgent care clinic sporadically receives around 10 or fewer kits from LabCorp or the county health department. Those tests are then reserved for first responders and health care workers who are short-staffed, don’t have the option to work from home and have a higher risk of contracting and spreading the disease.
Drive-through testing sites are often set up in parking lots. Patients drive up, receive a swab to swipe in their nose and throat and talk to a provider about their symptoms. The whole process takes about 10 to 15 minutes, Elfenbein said.
At Chesapeake ERgent Care, swabs are handed back to a medical technician who then hands the patient an iPad to video chat with a doctor or another provider. The clinic started using telehealth measures Wednesday in an effort to minimize person to person contact — and the disease’s opportunity to spread — even further.
But people who are concerned they might have COVID-19 and want a test cannot make unscheduled visits to drive-through testing sites or expect to be tested, health officials say. Since there are so few tests and clinics don’t always know when they will get resupplied, tests are reserved for patients who need them the most.
“There haven’t been a lot of hiccups, with the exception of people who are angry because we’re not testing everybody. We’re just trying to educate people about why we’re not testing people. I think once they understand why, most people are pretty reasonable about it,” Elfenbein said.
The novel coronavirus causes an illness defined by a dry cough, fever, aches and pains, and fatigue. People may also develop difficulty breathing. Cough, fever and difficulty breathing are the main symptoms and range from mild to severe.
At Chesapeake ERgent Care, a patient who comes to the drive-through testing site must have respiratory symptoms. The patient is then tested for flu, strep and respiratory infection with a molecular test that is more accurate than a rapid flu test, Elfenbein said.
Results from these tests come back in about 10 minutes. If results are negative and the patient is in critical condition, a first responder or a health care worker, they will be tested for COVID-19.
Elfenbein’s clinic administered around 10 COVID-19 tests as of Wednesday. All have come back negative.
Although not all patients with respiratory symptoms will get tested for COVID-19, patients can still use the drive-through that Chesapeake ERgent Care for a quick test for flu, strep and other respiratory viruses without having to leave the car.
Anne Arundel Medical Center also has a drive-up testing site for patients who have been registered in the hospital’s system, screened by a doctor and ordered to get tested, said Arminta Plater, AAMC spokeswoman.
Breaking News Alerts
Doctors Community Hospital in Prince George’s County will start drive-through COVID-19 tests on March 20 with the same criteria.
“We have plans to open additional drive-up test sites for patients in the coming days. These will similarly be for scheduled, ordered tests,” Plater said in a statement.
Though Anne Arundel County Department of Health plans to work with private centers that run drive-through testing sites, health officials are focusing on testing residents who live in group homes where a positive COVID-19 case could spread rapidly.
“We don’t want to stand up drive-through testing right now because every other site that has tried that has stopped because they run out of tests," said Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the county health officer.
Starting Friday, the county health department said they are prepared to send teams to test individuals in shelters, group homes, residential programs and assisted living spaces if they have COVID-19 symptoms. If those individuals test positive they will be quarantined in a hotel room paid for by the county, Kalyanaraman said.
“Our priority is to make sure we’re protecting vulnerable individuals,” Kalyanaraman said. “We have enough tests to be able to test in those types of situations."
Hogan announced plans Tuesday to further limit “people-to-people interactions” by suspending the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program at BWI Marshall Airport and using the program’s sites as drive-through testing locations.
[ Support community journalism. Get a digital subscription to Capital Gazette. ]