BOISE, Idaho — More drive-thru stations testing for possible coronavirus, or COVID-19, are being set up around the Treasure Valley.
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On Wednesday, Saint Alphonsus in Meridian set up its first drive-thru station.
St. Luke’s currently has a site set up on its Meridian campus and Saltzer Health is conducting curbside testing at two of its facilities in Nampa.
All health care facilities report being busy and are urging the public not to back up traffic for testing if they don’t meet the criteria.
St. Luke’s, Saint Al’s and Saltzer Health all follow testing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The main criteria that we are looking for is onset of a new fever and a cough and shortness of breath,” said Dr. Daniel Bridger with Saint Alphonsus.
Dr. John Kaiser, chief medical officer for Saltzer Health, explained what classifies a fever.
“And a fever is above 100.4,” he said. “If they don’t have above 100.4 that excludes them right away.”
If a person presents with fever, coughing or shortness of breath, it’s on to the next stage of questioning.
“The other question they’re going to ask today is have you been to an area with a lot of COVID or around somebody with confirmed COVID?” said Dr. Laura McGeorge with St. Luke’s Health System.
According to McGeorge, you don’t necessarily need all the symptoms – because other symptoms could develop later. But you need at least one of the symptoms and there has to have been an exposure to the virus to meet the criteria for testing.
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Kaiser said contact is another question patients are often confused about.
“Have you been exposed to anyone who you know is a COVID-19 positive person? And that has to be close contact,” he said. “There’s no strict definition for close contact - it’s within six feet. And for a more extended period of time. Some people will say 10 minutes.”
While many know travel to countries hit hardest by the virus like China or Italy are an automatic red flag for possible exposure, what about the U.S.?
With all 50 states now reporting cases, how is that determined for testing criteria?
“In the U.S. it’s become more of a concern so what we’ve said is, it has to be travel to an area where there is widespread and persistent infection,” Kaiser said.
Some examples of that would be New York, Washington or California – currently the three states with the highest reported number of cases. Currently, Idaho is not one of those areas.
Drive-thru testing has been implemented as a way to keep patients with respiratory infections separated from other ER or urgent care patients.
“To be able to separate our providers and our staff and also to keep those with respiratory symptoms in a separate area from our patients who are just having their well-check visits or are here for other reasons I think is very, very important,” Bridger said.
McGeorge said the drive-thru testing stations also provide an additional resource to try and keep hospitals and primary care centers from getting overburdened.
“The purpose of this drive-thru screening is to provide access in the community to people who need to be screened and also, to keep people from inundating or going into the emergency room for this when they do not need to be in the emergency room,” she said.
Because of that, health care centers with those testing stations are urging people not to back up traffic unnecessarily.
“If people do not have symptoms we do not want them going to the drive-thru area because they will just wait in line then be turned away for testing,” McGeorge said.
Bridger added that those with mild symptoms who aren’t high-risk also don’t necessarily need to be tested.
“For mild symptoms and low-risk factors, really the recommendation is self-isolate at home,” he said.
Kaiser said there are a limited number of testing kits available right now so they have to be efficient and test those most at-risk for coronavirus.
If you’re unsure about whether to get tested, the best thing to do is contact your primary care provider or call a health care facility to determine if you meet the criteria. Several Treasure Valley health care facilities have set up triage lines where nurses can provide answers on symptoms, screening, risk factors and more. You can find those numbers below.
Kaiser said while it’s important to take your health seriously, it’s also important not to panic. Keep in mind, he said, that more than 80% of patients who do get infected with coronavirus, recover with no complications.
Saint Alphonsus is looking at possibly adding other drive-thru testing locations in Boise, Nampa and Fruitland.
St. Luke’s also plans to open a drive-thru testing site in Boise starting on Thursday.
Saint Alphonsus triage line: 208-302-2683
St. Luke’s triage line: 208-381-9500
Saltzer Health: 208-463-3000
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