Arlington County residents get tested at drive-thru coronavirus testing site

Arlington COVID-19 drive through testing site
Arlington has opened its first COVID-19 drive-through testing site. (WTOP/Liz Anderson)

As COVID-19 cases spike in Virginia and the D.C. area, Arlington County is stepping up its efforts to test those who are showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus: A temporary drive-through sample collection center has been set up along North Quincy Street, across from the David Brown Planetarium.

Some 60 samples were taken by the time the drive-through closed Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s very important that individuals who come to this collection site come with an appointment, that they’ve gone through our scheduling line for that, as well as having a physician’s order for the collection,” said Melody Dickerson, the chief nursing officer of the Virginia Hospital Center.

A lot of the pretesting work is done when patients schedule their appointments, so the whole process takes about 10 minutes from start to finish, Dickerson said, including “A throat swab, much like you would get for strep throat. And then that’s complete; [patients] roll up their window, and they’re on their way.”

From there, the samples will be sent away to labs that will process the results.

“It takes about five to seven business days,” Dickerson said.

The site is not for on-demand testing, but for patients showing symptoms such as fever, chills, coughing and shortness of breath. There are steps to take before heading to the sample collection center.

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Any Arlington County resident, government employee, county public schools employee and patient of Virginia Hospital Center staff who thinks they need a COVID-19 test is asked to “call your primary care physician. Talk to that physician. That physician should follow the CDC guidelines for testing. If they determine that a test is needed, they would write that order,” Dickerson said.

From there, the doctor’s order can be sent electronically or by fax to their scheduling center. Then, a patient can call the scheduling center to make a screening appointment.

There are additional requirements.

“Just for safety, it needs to be done in a private vehicle,” Dickerson said; they’re not accepting patients on foot or via bike.

“The goal is to keep the windows of the car up until the moment that we actually collect the sample.”

Those who have been tested should self-quarantine as they await their results, unless they are really in need of emergency medical treatment.

“So you would stay in your room, drink lots of fluid, treat your fever, and take care of yourself. And if symptoms progress to a point where you really feel like the shortness of breath is to the point where you need to seek medical treatment, then you would go to your local emergency department,” Dickerson said.

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