With the arrival of winter, Montgomery County health officials are working to ready coronavirus testing centers for frigid temperatures.
While many appreciated the safety and convenience of being tested at outdoor drive-through testing sites, the shift towards freezing weather will bring some of that to an end.
“The county-sponsored testing that had been outdoors moved inside about three weeks ago to anticipate weather changes,” said Montgomery County Health and Human Services public information officer Mary Anderson.
But some of the testing sites affiliated with the county’s Latino Health Initiative are still outdoors.
“They are, right now, looking at a number of options of how to winterize their sites that may include moving some of them indoors — it may include getting heated tents for the workers,” Anderson said.
While those drive-in sites are safe enough for residents — who just roll down their window for the swab — health officials have to worry about the staff being out in the elements, so they are looking at options to keep them safe and warm.
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In some cases, the location of the testing sites may change, but it would still be in the same area.
“If we’ve got drive-through sites in Germantown, then the idea is: Let’s try to find an indoor site in Germantown,” Anderson said. “Although a specific address might shift, we try very hard to keep the options open in the same area so that we have testing available in various parts of the county.”
She recommended going to the county’s website to double check the address of testing locations before making the trip.
For some residents, the drive-through testing was not just a matter of convenience, but also confidence of being able to stay secure in their own car and not be around other people while testing. The idea of having to go into a building may make some uncomfortable.
But Anderson said those worries are not necessary.
“We’ve been doing this now for many months and the protocols that are in place are very strict,” she said. “If you’re standing in a line, you are 6 feet apart and there are markings on the floor.”
Anderson said she has personally experienced the testing on multiple occasions and felt very safe.
“When you go into a big room, the testing stations are at least 6 feet apart, if not more,” she said. “The person testing you, or the person handing you the self-test, they are masked, they are gloved, they have plastic shields on.”
According to Anderson, they have also been keeping the lines moving, and the waits are not as long as those in other areas, at least for the test. Getting the results of the test is another story.
“Not just with thanksgiving, but with more and more publicity about the need for testing and the rise in cases locally, we are seeing some longer wait times for results,” Anderson said. “The labs are working night and day, seven days a week, but the volume has just dramatically increased.”
She said the best thing everyone can do is to adhere to health safety protocols, wear a mask, avoid non-essential travel, not gather in groups and wash their hands.
These recommendations aren’t just to avoid COVID-19, but also the flu, because flu season traditionally ramps up this month.