Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said on Saturday that the state is hoping to expand the number of drive-up testing facilities in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Levine told lawmakers from the legislature's Joint Rules Committee that the Vermont Department of Health has been "strongly encouraging" hospitals to set up such testing facilities and may possibly even be "facilitating" some starting Monday. Hospital CEOs from around the state have voiced interest.
"This would greatly alleviate a lot of the concerns that facilities have about doing testing on-site, and how cumbersome and complicated it could be," Levine said during a conference call Saturday afternoon.
Levine said he's also spoken with the Vermont Department of Public Safety about potentially using hazmat tents and equipment to set up temporary testing sites, either on or away from hospital campuses.
"We would provide the actual venue, and the [health care] system could provide the actual [workers]," Levine said.
Dr. Tim Lahey, who specializes in infectious diseases at the University of Vermont Medical Center, told reporters on Thursday that the hospital network was making plans to introduce drive-up testing.
At least one hospital has already started. The Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington began offering the service by appointment last weekend. Officials there told Seven Days that they co-opted the idea from South Korea, which has been praised by health experts in recent days for curbing the disease's spread.
The approach aims to limit potential exposures and works much like it sounds: People remain in their cars while a health care worker comes outside in protective gear, swabs their cheek and then returns to the hospital.
But while drive-up sites make getting tested more convenient, adding more of them around the state would not mean that more people would be tested. Levine said the state's testing protocol — which encourages people to call their doctors, who then determine whether they should be tested based on a combination of symptoms and risk factors — would still be in place.
"It wouldn’t be like, you drive up to one of these because you want a test that day," he said. "We would still need to go through the health care system."