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As more tests for COVID-19 become available… drive-thru test sites are popping up across the state

COVID19 drive through testing

If you want a test for COVID-19 at the Bellaire Family Health Center… get in line. Because of their scarcity… tests are saved for healthcare workers with symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.

Next on the list are people in assisted-living facilities and prisons.

“Then we go down to any healthcare workers that are not symptomatic, then the fourth category would be people working essential functions.”

That’s Doctor Laurence Yung… the Chief Medical Officer of the health center. If you meet the criteria… you can get a COVID-test in their drive-thru. Dr. Yung is going through the site now to show how it works.

A nurse approaches his car. She’s wearing a protective gown and a mask that looks like a see-through welding helmet. She pulls out a 3 to 4 inch long cotton swab...that looks like a long cue tip.

“So the swab is gonna go into the back of your nose very easy, it’s gonna make your eyes water, maybe make you sneeze. Could be a little uncomfortable.”

After taking his temperature and blood oxygen level… Dr. Yung lowers his facemask below his nose so it only covers his mouth.

“Cover your face with the mask, in case you cough, and put your head back just a little bit...

She puts most of the swab into Dr. Yung’s nostril to reach the back of his throat. He is clearly uncomfortable. His eyes well up and he winces through it. After a few seconds… the nurse removes the swab and places it into a small sealed container.

“It sounds really bad, but to me it’s worse to get your blood drawn.”

The nurse then tells patients to isolate themselves until results come back. The clinic even offers documents to explain that to employers.

The samples are sent off to Labcorp (lab-core.) Yung says because they don’t rely on the state’s testing… they may get results a bit quicker.

“We’re now at the point where we can safely say 3 or 4 days is the vast majority of results. And some of them are as soon as 1 or two days.”

If the test comes back positive… the health department starts contact tracing to figure out who else may have it.

Under recently passed federal law… COVID tests are covered by insurance. If you don’t have that… Dr. Yung says the test can run from 60 to 100 dollars depending on where you get it.

There are only a handful of drive-thru testing sites in northern Michigan… but there could be more soon. Dr. Yung says they have about 100 tests on hand right now… and they get a new shipment once per week. 

“A few weeks ago even it was very hard to get even more than a day or two of testing material.”

Yung says another bottleneck is personal protective equipment for his staff… which is in short supply these days.

Now… he says the real danger is uncertainty. As it heats up… Yung says more people will travel to isolated, rural communities up north.

“We’re ill-equipped for vast numbers of very ill patients to swamp our clinics and our hospitals. I don’t know if we’re two weeks behind, I don’t know if we’ll see a surge. I fully expect us we’ll see something.”

He says forms of quicker testing… like machines that spit out results in as little as 15 minutes… aren’t F-D-A approved yet. 

But more tests are becoming available. Within the next week the health center wants to start using ‘self-tests’... where the patient has a full kit and they administer it themselves. That will also better protect their staff.

Dr. Yung says for the time being… the best way to fight the virus… is to stay home.

“By staying home and staying safe you protect others, you just have to figure out some inventive ways to stay engaged and healthy too.”

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