By Emily Williams
The last thing you might expect during the coronavirus pandemic is heavy traffic, yet cars were lining up on Acton Road on March 13 and 14 at the state’s first COVID-19 drive-thru testing site.
Assurance Scientific Laboratories was ahead of the game, setting up the site before a number of other Southeastern cities.
“We thought it was critical to try and get out ahead of the spread,” said Mary Beth Minyard, Assurance Lab’s director of microbiology. “The only way to know for certain who is positive and where the virus is spreading is to test. From an epidemiological standpoint, testing is critical.”
The virus has been spreading throughout the nation, but its scope hasn’t been fully realized because of limitations such as limited availability of testing products or restrictive rules on who is a good candidate to be tested.
Assurance Labs had been working to develop a test since early January.
“We have the knowledge base and experience to proceed quickly,” Minyard said. “However, due to the initial restrictions limiting testing only to the Centers for Disease Control, we could not move forward until we received the green light from the Food and Drug Administration.”
The company was given the go-ahead to start testing from the FDA on March 12.
“Our team is working diligently to process as many specimens as possible,” Minyard said.
After an unexpected volume of patient testing in its first two days of drive-thru service, Assurance teamed up with Church of the Highlands and Christ Health Center to begin testing in a larger space, at the Church of the Highlands Grandview Campus, 3660 Grandview Parkway
Testing at that site is available 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
According to Minyard, the idea to offer the drive-thru service to collect samples for testing didn’t occur to the staff until about a week before FDA approval rolled in.
It was an “aha” moment as the team discussed what might be the best way to efficiently test patients, as well as a response to health care providers’ need to send patients off-site for testing to reduce exposure in their clinics and waiting rooms.
“We knew the process would need to be rapid and safe for all,” Minyard said.
Those who wish to get tested must have an order from a health care provider. Orders can be made by physicians through the lab’s website or by emailing or calling Assurance Labs.
When patients arrive at the drive-thru, they have to fill out paperwork as they wait their turn for a throat and nasal swab.
Once patient samples are received, they will be processed and patients will receive their results through the Spruce app. Those who test positive will be contacted by phone.
According to Assurance officials, the lab has the ability to test 10,000 specimens a week. The rate at which people in the community need to be tested, Minyard noted, remains to be seen.
Scientific experts continue to learn more about the virus, but there are still many unanswered questions.
“One of our goals in providing testing is, ultimately, to provide a means to assess the spread of the virus in our area and throughout the state,” Minyard said.
“Without adequate testing, we as a nation do not actually know the true rate of infection,” Minyard said. “Our state has been one of the last states to report positive cases. This certainly does not mean there are not cases here. It just means we need to do more screening.”
For more information on Assurance Scientific Labs, visit assurancescientificlabs.com.