Drive-thru sites have been opening around the United States to make it quicker and safer to test people for the new coronavirus. But much like the rest of the U.S. response to the pandemic, the system has been marked by inconsistencies, delays, and shortages. Many people who have symptoms and a doctor’s order have waited hours or days for a test.
More than a week after President Donald Trump promised that states and retail stores such as Walmart and CVS would open drive-thru test centers, few sites are up and running, and they’re not yet open to the general public. Some states are leaving it to the private sector to open test locations; others are coordinating the effort through state health departments.
Patients have complained that they had to jump through cumbersome bureaucratic hoops and wait days to get tested, then wait even longer for a result. Testing centers opened in some places only to be shut down shortly afterward because of shortages of supplies and staff. And while the drive-thru test centers that have opened are generally orderly, there have been long lines at some.
The slow ramp-up of the COVID-19 testing and the spotty nature now of the system makes it hard for public health officials to track the spread of the disease and bring it under control.
Dr. Brett Giroir, the federal health official tasked with overseeing testing, said at a White House briefing Saturday that so far about 195,000 people have been tested in the U.S. That figure does not include some people who have been tested in private labs.
Drive-thru test sites have popped up in locations in more than 30 states — in state parks and parking lots, next to medical centers and universities, at the Mississippi state fairgrounds and near where the Jacksonville Jaguars play. The governor of Maryland this past week ordered vehicle emission inspection programs across the state to stop so that the locations can be used as drive-thru centers to test for the virus.
Dozens of people waiting in cars at a center in Homestead, Florida, on Wednesday, waited their turn to speak with a screener wearing a gown and mask and carrying a clipboard. Some were apparently turned away. Others were waved through, had their temperatures checked and were swabbed for samples.
But supply shortages have shut down drive-thrus in several states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, and Utah. One Las Vegas site was closed because it didn’t have enough workers.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said new testing sites at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando and the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens will open this week.
Saturday, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told residents to brace for a “stay-at-home order” in coming days.
“It will be soon, I would be surprised if it’s not by Monday,” Castor told reporters Saturday. “Time is of the essence.”
Hillsborough County hasn’t seen a heavy caseload of COVID-19, but Castor said that’s only because the community has yet to offer large-scale public testing. Castor and DeSantis said officials are trying to open a testing site at Raymond James Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, soon.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has called on DeSantis to issue a similar, but statewide, “stay-at-home” order. So far, governors in California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut and Oregon have issued such directives.