At Fairgrounds-Turned-Coronavirus Testing Site, Business Is Brisk | Off Message

At Fairgrounds-Turned-Coronavirus Testing Site, Business Is Brisk

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The test site in Essex Junction - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • The test site in Essex Junction
Seventy-two people were swabbed at the University of Vermont Medical Center's drive-up coronavirus testing site in Essex Junction on Wednesday, a number that has grown sharply since the makeshift facility opened earlier this week.

The site, at the Champlain Valley Exposition's fairgrounds, began taking samples on Monday, just nine days after the Vermont Health Department announced the state's first case of COVID-19. 

Paramedics tested 21 patients the first day and 55 people the next, according to Mike Conti, who manages the medical center's Critical Care Transport team, which is running the site.



Patients need a doctor's referral. The state has a limited supply of test kits, and the state lab is prioritizing samples taken from health care workers who show symptoms and hospitalized patients, according to the health department.
The Essex Junction facility serves to divert people who could be contagious from the hospital's emergency room and urgent care centers, which have been swamped during the outbreak.
Mike Conti - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • Mike Conti

The testing site area is bare-bones and looks wildly out of place against the backdrop of the fairgrounds: Rows of traffic cones have been set up on the paved path, which serves as the midway during fair season. A large white tent has been erected where a ring-toss game or a fried dough booth might operate in summer. Wednesday afternoon, an ambulance idled where summertime fair-goers wait in line to Drown the Clown.

The testing procedure is simple. A paramedic in full protective gear greets the patient while they are still in a vehicle, keeping a safe distance. Using a binder with printed instructions, the paramedic instructs the patient to keep their car windows rolled up until their identity can be verified.

Then the vehicle pulls forward into the tent, where another paramedic reaches into a window and inserts a five-inch-long swab into the patient's nose. It hurts.

"It goes all the way back to where the back of your nose meets your throat," paramedic Randy Lanier explained. "It's an extraordinarily uncomfortable test. It makes you cry; it really does."
A test kit - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • A test kit
The medic places the specimen in a vial and stores the completed test kit in a cooler. The entire process takes about five minutes.

At the end of the day, a courier whisks the samples away to the lab for testing. It can take at least a day for a patient to get the results.

"It's not the greatest situation ... so [patients appreciate] the fact that there is a comfortable way that they come get tested, that they don't have to be surrounded by other people, as well," Conti said. "It's in the comfort of their car."

The center will be open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.