A drive-through testing site for COVID-19 is now operating at the University of Washington Medicine’s Northwest Outpatient Medical Center in Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood. The site is appointment-only and is open to UW Medicine patients who are referred to testing by a healthcare provider.
Dr. Thomas Hei, associate medical director of outpatient services at UW Medicine, said the testing process takes just a few minutes, but getting results takes much longer.
“We are kind of into the thick of testing in our communities so the results are coming in a little slower,” he said. “We’ve been telling patients to expect several days. It’s a little bit difficult to give an exact number, but it’s not a quick turnaround.”
The drive-through testing site is set up in the corner of the center’s parking lot. Hei described what patients can expect when they arrive.
A person drives up to get tested. They are advised to keep their windows up until a staff member approaches their vehicle to confirm their identity and that they have an appointment. Then, the person will drive forward and a nurse in fully protective equipment will perform a swab in both of the patient’s nostrils. Before the patient leaves, the nurse will give them information on how to take care of themselves and get their results.
The drive-through site opened Monday and screened about 15 patients. They had 20 appointments on Tuesday. Hei said they have the capacity to test about 50 patients each day, depending on staffing. He encourages people to drive to the site alone to reduce the risk of exposing others.
Health care providers are warning of a shortage of medical supplies due to high demand. Hei was concerned about that, as well. He said it's one reason they fast-tracked the opening of the drive-up site for patients.
He said they are prioritizing testing for vulnerable members of the community, who are considered at high risk. Health officials do not currently recommend testing for people who don’t have symptoms of the virus. Hei was unable to provide an estimated cost for the test.
“Unfortunately in our complex health care system at this time, it’s very difficult to know how much a patient will experience in terms of the price,” he said.
He said UW plans to add additional drive-up testing sites for UW Medicine patients soon.
Other health agencies also have opened drive-through sites around the region. Among them are Kaiser Permanente, which has sites in Puyallup, Bellevue, Renton and Lynnwood, with plans to add more. Swedish Medical Center also is offering drive-up testing for its patients in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood and in Issaquah.