Learned at a Covid-19 Testing Site

Covid-19 nasopharyngeal swabs and vials.

Florida became a world epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic recently with 10K+ cases a day for about 10 days. Testing is key to the battle against Covid-19. To get a closer look at how a Covid-19 testing site works, I took an opportunity to work at one Covid-19 Testing site at Ybor as a volunteer. The testing site is run mainly by volunteers from USF Health. Most people are medical professionals and medical students.

The testing site is at Lee Davis Community Resource Center. Three tents are set up in its parking lot. Two are open tents big enough to cover two lanes and has three-car length. The third one is smaller and closed. A patient will drive through the first open tent, intake tent, fill a sign-in sheet, and then drive to the second open tent, swab tent, to get swabbed. Then they will drive off the parking lot and leave. A staff/volunteer will bring the specimen and paperwork to the third tent, record tent, for record entering. The site opens at 8 am and closes at noon. Usually, many vehicles are already in a queue and waiting for the testing site to open. Some of them come and wait as early as 6:30 am.

The site is usually very busy at the start. At about 8:30 and 9 am, vehicles have lined up out of the parking lot along the block. But, after 10 am, it slows down. Only three or four vehicles are in the line. A patient comes in after 10:30 am can go through the testing from entering the parking lot to the exiting in 15 mins. When getting close to noon, sometimes there was no vehicle at all. The site at its busy time two weeks ago takes in 450 patients in a morning. Now, it takes about 250 to 300 patients a morning. The site only opens in the mornings of Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

At the intake tent, a yellow jacket directs two vehicles into the tent. An intake staff brings paper forms to the drive side and ask the driver to switch to parking before handing out the sign-in forms. Patients have to bring their own pens. If they don’t have a pen, they need to tell the staff all the information, and the intake staff will write it down. The patient needs to fill in the sign-in form, no matter if they have made a reservation online or not. Their information will be checked with the reservation list. The filled form is then placed under the windshield wiper. Staff at the intake tent wear face shields, masks, and gloves, but not gowns. The site also takes walk-ins – who come in on foot.

The swab tent is about 20 yards from the intake tent. Another yellow-jacket directs the vehicles into the tent. Five trained medical professionals wearing full PPE — face shields, masks, gowns, and gloves can take patients from two vehicles simultaneously. They first take the forms from the windshield and double-check with them. Then bring over the swabs and vials and tell the patient what will happen. They instruct the patient to take off their mask, face toward them, and tilt their heads backward. They take out a swab from its package, insert the soft brush end into the patient’s left nostril by 3 inches. They then rotate the swab several times, then take it out and put it into the right nostril to get more samples. It is a nasopharyngeal swab, so no oral swabbing is performed. Once the swabbing is done, the medical professional opens a vial and inserts the swab into the tube. They then place the labeled vial and the sign-in form into a biohazard bag. One person will transfer the bags to the record tent that is about 40 yards away.

Two volunteers worked with me came by and wanted to get tested. They filled up the sign-in forms and then sat in a chair to get swabbed. One of them asked me to hold her phone to record the whole swabbing process. She would share the video with her friends and tell them the testing is not painful, and they can do it as well. I asked her what it was like. She told me it made her tingled.

The record tent is fully closed because it is ACed. Thee mobile AC units ware running to keep the tent cool so that people inside can work comfortably, and the PCs in the tent can function. More importantly, the specimens are kept at a proper temperature before they are put into a cooler. There were four PCs for record entering and order creating in the Quest system.

Before entering records, a record staff will check the handwritten paperwork with the records generated from the reservation system and identify unreadable handwriting and mark discrepancies. After the patient information is entered into the Quest system, a testing order is created and printed out. Then another two staffs/volunteers recheck it before putting them into a cooler. The cooler of the specimens will be taken to Quest at noon.

No SSN, no insurance, no payment information is required since the test is completely free. Surprisingly to me, only about 30% of them had made reservations or registered. Some patients do not provide home addresses, some don’t provide phone numbers or emails. In the patient form, they should also input if they have symptoms. But they can come and get tested without any symptom or for any reason.

It is a surprise to see how things run smoothly without any supervision. Except for three to four persons from Quest, County office, and police, all others are volunteers from USF. Old volunteers instruct the new volunteers, and then things run cohesively without any problem. New volunteers emerge in their work without much delay or first-timer nervous. Maybe it is because all volunteers are friendly and willing to help and teach each other.

The whole site is run by about 20-25 people. Among them, 5 perform swabbing while 12 to 15 people handle pape works. The bottleneck of the entire testing process is not swabbing. It is the paperwork. The patient information needs to be written down, checked and checked again and again. Then it will be typed into the Quest system if the patient previously not in the system. Covid-19 testing orders needed to be entered, printed, and rechecked. It takes one minute to swab, but about 20 minutes per patient to write down the information on paper, check, recheck, and type into a computer. It will run much more efficiently if all patient data are already in the system and accurate, or it is entered by the patient digitally.

Many patients have been tested before. I heard a story during my swab training. Someone keeps testing and getting positives for more than 30 days, but haven’t developed any symptom. Some of the patients come to get tested because their jobs require them to.

Yes, if you want to get tested, you can get tested. There is no waiting, or the waiting is minimum if you come at a certain time at some sites. For the USF Ybor site, between 10 am and noon, the waiting time is short.

Yes, it is completely free to test. You don’t even need to leave your home address. Just leave a phone number, people will call you and give you the result.

Yes, it is painless. You will feel a brief tingle. 3-inch into the nose sounds scary. But it is not bad.

Yes, it is safe to get tested. Wearing masks in your vehicle and open taking off the mask only when doing the swabbing. So the risk is minimum.

Yes, you can walk in on foot to get tested.

No, it won’t take 7 days to get your results. Now you usually get results in 3 days. Getting results back in 7 or more days are very rare.

No, you will not be turned away if you haven’t made any reservation. At least at this site for recent weeks. But, your reservation will make the data entering much easier and less prone to error. So, please make a reservation.

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