Hospitals in La Crosse launched their new drive-up COVID-19 coronavirus testing centers on Monday, following other health facilities around the country.
As a first step for both testing sites, patients must call providers at either Mayo Clinic Health System or Gundersen Health System before visiting. A nurse or doctor will determine whether your symptoms match that of the virus — cough, fever and shortness of breath — or if you have been exposed to a confirmed case or hot-spot area. They’ll then decide if you should visit the drive-up testing locations.
“We want to screen them on the phone to make sure that they fit the criteria for a COVID test,” said Mayo spokesperson Rick Thiesse. “There’s a small amount of tests out there.”
This preemptive screening process will help ensure the limited amount of tests are being dedicated to those who are showing particular symptoms, according to staff, but also to protect other patients and limit the spread of the disease.
“The idea behind this is to protect our community. Protecting our community is putting patients away from our clinics and hospitals,” said Mayo physician Paul Molling. “If they believe that they’re infected or they have the disease, we’ll screen them in their vehicles, and thus keeping them out of the clinics and out of the hospitals.”
At Mayo, those who are directed to visit the drive-up testing will wait in their car while a volunteer nurse — dressed in a gown, gloves, face mask and plastic shield-mask — comes and takes a nasal and oral swab. The test is then brought inside a building dedicated just for COVID testing, processed, and sent to Rochester, Minn.
Patients will then go home and wait for results from Rochester, Minn., which take about a day, according to staff.
There is no upfront cost for the tests at either testing site, and you don’t need to be an existing patient with either healthcare facility to be tested.
“We’re assessing the situation as it comes by,” said Molling of the financial uncertainties, “but we do not want that to be the limiting factor.”
At Gundersen, they are requiring that all patients also be tested for influenza, which will need some type of copayment from the patient, depending on insurance. Gundersen’s coronavirus test is sent to the Wisconsin State Lab for testing, which will take from one to two business days for results.
As national test availability remains low, local officials are hopeful this will help tests meet the right people faster.
But Mayo was already running low on its first day.
“We’ll do our best to keep it moving as quickly as possible,” Molling said, “but there is a capacity issue, hence why we are screening and just not asking patients to show up site unseen.”
But the drive-up system lends a hand to relieve some of the anxiety around limited tests.
“We’re in good shape,” said Megan Meller, an infection preventionist at Gundersen, who said they aren’t experiencing any testing shortages as of yet, and says the drive-up system “shows that we’re accessible,” where people can just make a quick phone call and then stay in their car and be tested.
As for the staff managing the test sites, spirits are remaining high.
“We’re holding up. It’s a test of our abilities,” Molling said, adding that the leadership and teams at Mayo have been working on this process for several weeks now.
According to nurses doing the testing, Mayo sent out an email asking for volunteers to work at the testing site. And many raised their hands.
“Our Mayo staff really steps up in these times,” said one volunteer. The volunteers are kept safe inside the isolated building or under gear, and a secured personal protective equipment area separates the tented testing sites from the rest of the building, limiting contamination as much as possible.
As tests remain limited, the staff emphasized the important role that social distancing still plays, saying that even at the hospital they are diligent to not have more than 10 people in a room at a time.
The testing at Mayo may pause if supplies run out, but will start back up when they are restocked by the state health department.
“As the weeks play on, we’re going to understand more,” said Molling. “And it’s ever-changing ... the information’s ever-changing.”
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