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'Drive-through' COVID-19 screening alleviates testing burden in Tampa Bay area

Some sites will be open seven days a week, but you need a doctor's referral to be tested

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Health care groups across the Tampa Bay area are getting smarter and more efficient about testing patients for COVID-19 by implementing drive-through screening to help patients suffering from symptoms.

"We need to get more people tested to be able to really understand what's really going on with this virus in our community, so the purpose of this drive-through exercise here today is to test as many people as possible that meet the Florida Department of Health criteria for testing to see how many people we can get through this line today to receive the proper COVID-19 testing,” Dr. Nathan Waldrep with BayCare.

RELATED: BayCare launching drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites

BayCare is turning seven of its urgent care facilities into drive-through screening locations for the foreseeable future. 

Patients need a doctor’s referral to be screened.

"You have to have had a fever recently and you have a new onset of a cough or shortness of breath. If you do not have one of those two symptoms, you will not be screened here at this facility," Waldrep said.

Potential patients must also have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, traveled internationally, and/or gone to states with high numbers of cases.

Those who meet most or all of these pieces of criteria will then be swabbed from their car. Professionals in protective gear take the samples.

"...A healthcare professional will have the ability to actually collect the specimens that we need to then send into the lab," Waldrep said.

AdventHealth also has the ability to screen patients from their cars to help get people tested more quickly and to keep the level of risk and exposure down throughout the community. 

Those patients must also be referred by a physician.

Additionally, both AdventHealth and Tampa General Hospital have developed in-house tests for COVID-19. 

"The sooner we're able to identify results, whether positive or negative, whatever clinical care decisions can be made much sooner," said Jose Tirado Jr., division director of laboratory services for AdventHealth West Florida Division.

AdventHealth can test about 30 patients a day, and TGH can do about 100.

"For us to be able to perform this testing in-house does help alleviate some of the burden on our public health laboratories," Tirado said.

RELATED: How Tampa Bay hospitals are preparing for a surge in coronavirus cases

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Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10News WTSP. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@wtsp.com.

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