Over the last several months, the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 has continued its spread throughout the country, making the case for nation-wide testing incredibly strong. One method for slowing the spread, containing the virus, and providing low-risk testing is to set up drive-through testing centers.
In this article we’ll discuss the necessity of widespread COVID-19 testing, the benefits of drive-through testing centers as opposed to walk-up testing, and what structural considerations you need to think about when creating a drive-through testing center.
This guide is for informational purposes only. If you’re setting up a drive-through testing station, we recommend that you contact your local governing agency for specific safety and health requirements. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for up-to-date information on COVID-19.
Why COVID Testing Is So Important
State and local authorities are beginning to consider new plans to help usher in a return to what might be considered the “new normal.” From social distancing and PPE (personal protective equipment, such as face coverings) regulations, to the safest ways of reopening businesses and schools, there is one thing almost everyone can agree on: the need for widespread testing.
Since the new virus has no cure or vaccine as of yet, the only way to control and contain the spread of COVID-19 is through widespread and frequent testing. Once someone is found to have the virus because of testing, with or without symptoms, that person can be isolated until they can no longer spread it. In order to begin relaxing social distancing measures or comfortably reopen businesses, this testing needs to happen on a massive scale.
Harvard University’s Center for Ethics suggests that between 5 million and 20 million tests per day, coupled with contact tracing, would be necessary to tackle the pandemic in our country.
Testing can also help scientists and doctors with understanding the coronavirus, since it is still very new. This information can reveal helpful data about treating the infected, developing immunity, and finding a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, as well as revealing more accurate numbers in terms of death and survival rates.
As our need for testing increases, so does the need for more hospital beds and space in urgent care centers for those infected. Health authorities have requested anyone not suffering from severe pain or illness to avoid visiting emergency rooms and hospitals in order to prevent exposure and possible COVID spread, which in turn encouraged the use of virtual telehealth visits and the creation of “pop up” coronavirus testing stations.
Benefits of Drive-Through Testing
Creating a testing center that is as safe as possible is the goal. In order to contain the spread and risk of exposure, the CDC recommends:
- Washing your hands often
- Avoiding close contact and keeping a safe social distance (a distance of at least six feet) between you and those outside of your household
- Covering your nose and mouth with a mask when around others
- Monitoring your health daily and being alert for symptoms of COVID-19
Testing centers need to follow these guidelines to create a safe environment for everyone who wants to be tested, including high-risk or immuno-compromised individuals. Drive-through testing seems to be the safest way to accommodate CDC guidelines while still treating the most people efficiently.
Dr. Dena Grayson, an expert on pandemics who worked on the 2014 Ebola outbreak, explains that drive-through testing is preferred because of the risk of spreading the disease with walk-up testing. People flock to the testing center, where they’re likely to contract the disease if they didn’t already have it. Drive-through testing, she explains, reduces this risk because people remain in their vehicles and drive off as soon as their testing is complete.
The drive-through testing process is simple: Patients drive up to the center without getting out of their vehicle, give their identification and insurance information to workers wearing PPE, the workers then swab their throats or noses through the vehicle window, and the patient can then drive off — the entire ordeal usually only takes 10 minutes or less, and patients typically receive their results in under a week.
Structural Considerations for Drive-Through Testing Centers
Setting up “pop-up” testing centers isn’t as straightforward as the name would suggest. Creating an efficient testing center requires obtaining the right testing kits and materials, staffing workers, and getting the word out to communities — not to mention creating the physical testing center itself.
In order to set up the physical testing center, you need to acquire the necessary structures that will protect the testing equipment, workers, and patients and provide the space for testing.
For example, depending on the space available, you can have one structure set up to provide the initial information exchange, and a secondary structure where the actual testing and sample collection occurs. A third structure, if space allows, may be necessary to store samples, testing equipment, and PPE, as well as provide a space for workers to sanitize or take a break.
In order to create the most effective and safest drive-through testing center with portable structures, you need to take the following into consideration.
Since the need for testing is so immense, you need to be able to quickly and easily set up your center so testing can start as soon as possible. Ensure that your structure is not only quick and simple to set up with only a couple of people, but that it has the proper anchoring options as well.
COVID-19 testing at this point is so crucial, testing centers don’t have the luxury of only setting up shop on sunny days. Testing structures need to be weather-resistant and durable, so that heavy rain, wind, snow, strong sunlight, and other harsh elements won’t negatively impact the process. Structures should provide adequate shelter and be able to be left out in the same location for days, weeks, or even months at a time.
As fast and easy as your structure should be to set up, it needs to be just as easily disassembled. Drive-through testing stations should be ready to be relocated, or stored for future use — like drive-through vaccination clinics when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. Reusable testing structures are an excellent investment since we can use what we learn from the current pandemic to be adequately prepared with testing sites for future outbreaks.
Engineered Fabric Structures
One of the best options for drive-through testing structures are engineered fabric structures. These can be designed for a quick setup as well as portability, and engineered to withstand prolonged use in adverse weather conditions, unlike typical pop-up canopies. For instance, engineered drive-through testing centers from BLU-MED’s parent company Alaska Structures® are:
- Highly durable: Made from a frame system of high-strength galvanized steel and a UV-stabilized tensioned fabric membrane, Alaska Structures’ engineered fabric structures are high-quality and long-lasting. These structures won’t rot, are mold- and mildew-resistant, are chemically inert, and exceed the California Code of Regulations (CCR) fire safety requirements for membrane structures.
- Rapidly deployable: Alaska Structures’ drive-through testing stations are rapidly deployable, only taking 30 minutes or less to set up with four people, and able to be safely anchored to any level surface.
- Reusable: Since they’re so quick to set up, these structures are also easily taken down for relocation or to store for future use.
- Purpose-built: These engineered fabric structures are specifically built for drive-through testing and able to accommodate two standard-height vehicles for testing at one time.
- Customizable: Different testing stations will need different specifics, which is why Alaska Structures’ testing centers are customizable in terms of removable side curtains, windows, and multiple entry options. Optional insulation packages and HVAC systems are available for testing and drive-thru centers in cold climates.
Finding the perfect structure for your drive-through testing center isn’t the end-all of your testing station setup, however. Things such as doctor referrals, appointment scheduling, handling triage, test-result sharing, staffing, and other concerns will also need to be handled before your testing center can get going. Organizations shouldn’t have to worry about what type of structure they need on top of all of that.
Alaska Structures has a team of experts that can walk you through every step of the purchase process, coordinate shipping to your testing center, and even give you the option to hire a trained crew to quickly assemble the structure. Alaska Structures can also recommend additional fabric structures that can help enhance your drive-through testing stations, such as on-site storage solutions and portable offices.