Seattle now has a drive-thru clinic to test health professionals for coronavirus every 5 minutes
A staff member blocks the view as a person is taken by a stretcher to a waiting ambulance from a Washington State nursing facility where more than 50 people are sick and being tested for the COVID-19 virus on February 29, 2020.
- The University of Washington Medicine has set up a drive-thru clinic for its employees battling the coronavirus so they can get tested for COVID-19 without leaving their car.
- Healthcare workers in its system who show symptoms of the novel coronavirus can now be tested for influenza A, B, respiratory syncytial virus, and COVID-19.
- Washington state has been the hardest-hit by the novel coronavirus, with 19 deaths related to the virus as of Friday.
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Hard-hit by the novel coronavirus, a healthcare system in Seattle, Washington has transformed a hospital parking lot into a drive-thru coronavirus clinic for its workers where they can be tested for the virus every five minutes, NPR first reported.
Washington has been the state hardest hit by the coronavirus in the US with 136 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 19 deaths related to COVID-19 reported as of Friday.
Since Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in late February, tech giants including Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft have asked employees to stay away from their Seattle-based headquarters while public schools in the epicenter of the outbreak have closed down for at least two weeks.
For this reason, Dr. Seth Cohen, a physician who runs the infectious disease clinic at UW Medical Center Northwest, told NPR that the university is focusing its efforts on healthcare workers in Seattle, Washington who are critical to curtailing the spread of the novel virus in the city.
"We want to make sure that if our staff test negative we get them back to work as soon as we can," Cohen says. "But if they test positive we want to keep them out of the workforce to make sure they're not going on to infect other staff or patients."
Healthcare workers for the University of Washington's UW Medicine system who have a fever, dry cough, or other symptoms of the virus can fill out an online survey if they believe they may be infected.
If screeners suspect possible coronavirus infection, the worker in question is given an appointment at the pop-up clinic.
Healthcare workers can drive up to one of the three medical tents set up on the first floor of the hospital's parking lot in a multi-level garage and get tested for influenza A, B, respiratory syncytial virus, and COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Without leaving their car, patients will be stabbed in each nostril by a nurse in full protective gear through an open window.
The collected samples are then sealed in a plastic tube to be tested at a laboratory just a few miles away. Patients tested at the drive-thru can get their results within a day or so.
According to Cohen, the drive-thru clinic is not only convenient and efficient but allows for safer testing.
"Because of the way this virus could be spread, we want to make sure there's good ventilation," Cohen told NPR.
While the drive-thru testing clinic is only available to workers within the UW Medicine system for now, the university hopes to open up its services to all emergency first-responders battling the coronavirus in Washington. So far, the drive-through clinic has found lots of flu cases and just a few cases of coronavirus.
UW Medicine's drive-thru testing clinic is just one of many measures taken by hospitals across the nation that are bracing for a full-blown coronavirus outbreak in the US, which has at least 568 coronavirus cases in total across 34 states.
Protecting healthcare workers from infection may be critical to battling the coronavirus in the US. Healthcare workers on the frontlines of treating COVID-19 are particularly vulnerable to infection. In China, more than 3,300 health workers had contracted the virus and at least 13 have died.
Some hospitals are performing drills for the huge surge of coronavirus patients they expect in the coming weeks - a presentation for the American Hospital Association estimated there would be 4.8 million hospitalizations associated with the novel coronavirus.
However, the extent of infection in America remains unclear as the US government has severely undertested for the virus - the Center for Disease Control and Prevention had tested fewer than 6,000 potential cases as of this weekend.
Experts have implored public health officials to ramp up their response to the novel virus in the US.
"Testing capacity is not currently adequate, and we need more," Dr. Lisa Maragakis, an epidemiologist and the senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins Health System, told Congress on Friday.
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