Officials Stress: Testing by Appointment Only
Above: Test collectors, from left, sisters Sgt. Tegan Brown and Sgt. Coral Brown, both of Westerly, and Specialist Brandon Bessette of Providence and Private Cesar Alvarez of West Warwick.
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The National Guard Wednesday offered a glimpse into the mobile testing site at the CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick, one of three mobile COVID-19 testing sites that opened Tuesday. The sites are part of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s strategy to test up to 1,000 people a day. At full capacity, each mobile site will be able to test 300 people.
Officials stressed several times: do not come without an appointment.
“If you’re going to get tested at one of these sites, you need to have an appointment,” said Col. Craig Maceri, Joint Community Task Force. “You can’t just show up. You have to get a referral through your primary care physician. If you show up without a referral, we’re going to have to turn you away.”
Maceri said the referral process assists the R.I. Department of Health in contact tracing, symptom monitoring, patient recording and notification. Test results will be shared with the referring doctor. (If you don’t have a primary care doctor, you can call an urgent care clinic or RI DOH at 401-222-8022.)
Cars – acting as their own isolation areas – are funneled into one of four lanes and it’s at that point that members of the National Guard will ask for identification. Car windows should remain closed, however; the driver should just press the ID against the window. The National Guard will take the information, enter it into the database and, if a test has been ordered, the guard will then print out the order and put it and the test kit (just a swab and a container to put it in) under a windshield wiper and the car will proceed to the testing tent.
There are two testing areas – referred to as “hot zones” – in the large tent. Each zone has two workers, a sampler and a facilitator, who work in two-hour shifts. Getting ready for their shifts takes time, as they don a white Tyvek suit, hood and booties, two to three pairs of gloves (the outer pair of gloves is changed after every swab), goggles, face mask and a face shield. On a warm day, it can be stifling, hence the two-hour shifts.
The test itself may not be pleasant, officials conceded Wednesday, but it is fast. Everything is being handled by the National Guard.
“Service members have been trained in the nasopharyngeal sample guidelines from the CDC,” said Lt. Col. William Tuttle. “The nasopharyngeal swab is not pleasant but it is absolutely necessary…. It’s a long shaft that’s pushed up the nasal cavity to almost the back of the throat. It’s a rapid process. It’s done in seconds. It’s a push-in, twist, pull-out methodology,” he said.
The idea is to process a car every two and a half minutes to meet the 300-per-site goal.
“This is definitely something different. We all have jobs outside of here. I’m a lineman for National Grid,” said Sgt. Cody Nordby of Cumberland. “On a human level, it’s just nice helping people out, giving back, doing what we can since there’s just not enough health personnel.”
This was not what Specialist Ian Rose of Newport thought he’d be doing as a member of the National Guard.
“You think ‘National Guard’ maybe if there’s a hurricane or something like that. Certainly didn’t plan on this,” Rose said. “Knowing that when they need somebody, we can all kind of pitch in and do our part to help feels good.”
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