Widespread testing options for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are still going through some growing pains, but drive-up testing sites are springing up more and more. People can now get a COVID-19 test from their car in the same way that you would order fast food. But is this testing method quicker and safer and, more importantly, does it work? 

Below is an examination of what it’s like to get a drive-through COVID-19 test as well as the different testing options available.

Part of the new normal since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tens of thousands of Americans still contract the novel coronavirus disease every day. Symptoms associated with COVID-19, such as a fever, difficulty breathing, and loss of taste and smell, are not to be taken lightly. Individuals should consult with a health care provider to seek guidance for managing their condition right away.

Pharmacists are among the most accessible health care practitioners you can contact for an initial consultation and early detection of the disease. Individuals can discuss their symptoms with a licensed pharmacist over the phone to help distinguish between COVID-19, the common cold, allergies, and the seasonal flu.

If a pharmacist suspects someone has contracted the coronavirus, they will advise getting tested as soon as possible and to take measures that prevent the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Testing
COVID-19 testing is essential to prevent the highly contagious disease from spiraling further out of control. COVID-19 tests can help people determine whether they have been infected with the virus so they can self-isolate in order to mitigate the further spread of the pandemic. The FDA has approved 2 different types of coronavirus tests: COVID-19 diagnostics and antibody test.

Although both tests help identify the presence of COVID-19, they are used for different purposes. The antibody test is used to determine if a person was ever exposed to COVID-19 by looking for coronavirus antibodies in the blood. The diagnostics test, on the other hand, can help determine whether an individual is currently infected with the coronavirus. If someone is feeling unwell, their health care provider will ask them to take a COVID-19 diagnostics test.

COVID-19 Diagnostics Test
The COVID-19 diagnostics test can help determine if someone has an active coronavirus infection by looking for the genetic material or specific proteins on the surface of the virus. According to the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, most COVID-19 diagnostics tests use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method to identify an active infection.

The PCR test is the gold standard of coronavirus testing. During a PCR test, a health care provider will use a cotton swab to collect a mucus sample from the patient’s nose or throat. The sample is then taken to a laboratory to be analyzed. Laboratory technicians will look for traces of the virus genetic material in the sample to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection.

PCR Testing
PCR testing is a quick and accurate method to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. Individuals can take a PCR test at a hospital, clinic, at home, or in their own car. Many health care providers recommend a drive-through COVID-19 test to protect health care workers and prevent further spread of the contagious disease. The 99% accuracy of COVID-19 PCR tests is not at all lost in drive-through locations.

COVID-19 Drive-Through Test
A COVID-19 drive-through test is the most efficient method for diagnosing an active coronavirus infection, while minimizing the further spread of the contagious disease. Studies have shown that the risk of coronavirus transmission is significantly lower outdoors and in well-ventilated areas, so drive-through tests allow for higher safety standards than office visits.

Research conducted by the University of Georgia and published in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that coronavirus transmission rates are higher in an indoor space compared with an outdoor area. The researchers found that an individual infected with COVID-19 was able to transmit the disease to dozens of other people inside a non-ventilated bus, while infecting very few people in a large outdoor worship event.

Benefits of Drive-Through COVID-19 Test
The findings from the University of Georgia study conclude that you are more likely to infect others or become infected with COVID-19 in an indoor space such as a hospital or clinic while waiting for hours to get tested. In a drive-through COVID-19 test, people are quarantined in their car, isolated from others, and the testing procedure is conducted in a well-ventilated environment.

The combination of isolating potentially sick patients in their car and conducting the test in a ventilated setting minimizes COVID-19 transmission to the rest of the population, helping to contain and mitigate the propagation of the deadly disease.

What Should You Expect During a Drive-Through COVID-19 Test
If a health care provider has asked you to take a coronavirus test for diagnosing an active infection, you should search for reputable drive-through COVID-19 testing sites to get tested as soon as possible. A quick online search can help you find locations that offer drive-through testing.

Research the testing site to find out whether they employ licensed clinicians, board-certified physicians, and have or work with Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments and FDA-certified laboratories to conduct highly complex medical testing. After finding your ideal location to get tested, contact the testing site to schedule an appointment. You should also ask the testing site what you should bring and what you need to do to prepare for the drive-through test.

Drive-Through COVID-19 Testing Procedure
On the date of your appointment, you will drive to the testing site, keeping your windows closed throughout the journey. Once you reach the location, follow the instructions to enter the appropriate lane. You will be seated in your car as a health care worker approaches you to record your personal information.

Once your personal information is recorded, you will be directed to another location to get tested. While still seated in your car, a medical professional wearing protective gear will ask you to tilt your head back so they can collect a mucus sample to send for analysis. The medical worker will insert a long and thin cotton bud deep inside your nose or the back of your throat to collect fluid from your respiratory system.

The swab is brushed along the back of your throat or nasal cavity and may remain there for a few seconds to maximize mucous collection. This procedure can be uncomfortable for some people. After the sample has been collected, your COVID-19 drive-through test is over, and you can go home. The entire testing procedure takes less than 10 minutes.

The testing site will send the sample to a laboratory for analysis. You should expect to get results within 48 to 72 hours of your testing. Many testing sites offer next-day results for an extra fee.

What to do After a COVID-19 Test
After you get tested and receive your results, you should consult with a physician to interpret your test results. Many clinics offer telemedicine services, allowing you to consult with a physician virtually from the comfort of your home using technology similar to Skype or FaceTime.

During a remote consultation, your physician can advise you on what steps to take to improve your health and prescribe medication to manage your symptoms. Virtual visits with a physician also help contain the spread of COVID-19, as it helps avoid trips to hospitals and clinics crowded with potentially sick people.

A Safe, Quick, and Private COVID-19 Testing Experience
Drive-through COVID-19 tests provide an accurate and safe testing experience within the comfort and privacy of your own car. They help decrease the number of people who visit hospitals and clinics to get tested for the coronavirus, reducing the burden of the pandemic on health care workers, and minimizing the further spread of the disease.

If you experience symptoms of COVID-19, consult with your health care provider, and schedule a drive-through COVID-19 test to diagnose your condition and manage symptoms.

References
 
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by State. US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2020. Accessed October 8, 2020. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker.
  2. Coronavirus Testing Basics. The U.S Food and Drug Administration; 2020. Accessed October 8, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/coronavirus-testing-basics.
  3. Tang YW, Schmitz JE, Persing DH, et al. Laboratory Diagnosis of COVID-19: Current Issues and Challenges. J Clin Microbiol. 2020. doi: 10.1128/JCM.00512-20.
  4. Shen Y, Changwei L, Dong H. Community Outbreak Investigation of SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Among Bus Riders in Eastern China. JAMA Intern Med. 2020. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.5225.
About the Author
Aaron Smith is an LA-based content strategist and consultant in support of STEM firms and medical practices. He covers new industry developments and helps companies connect with clients. In his free time, Aaron enjoys swimming, swing dancing, and sci-fi novels.