UW Medicine expanding drive-thru COVID-19 testing to patients, first responders

SEATTLE — The University of Washington is rapidly expanding its ability to test people for COVID-19. A drive-thru testing site is already up and running at UW Medical in North Seattle that can test 40 to 50 people per day.

Right now it’s only available to employees and students, but UW Medical plans to expand that testing later this week to include first responders, employees at long-term care facilities and UW patients showing symptoms.

“We need widespread testing right now,” said Dr. Seth Cohen, Medical Director for Infection Prevention at UW Medicine. “There's urgency around it,” he said.

It launched a drive-thru test site at one of the parking garages at its Northwest campus on Friday. There are three tents – one is used to hold supplies for cleaning and things like gloves and gowns, while the other two tents are used for scheduling, holding patients’ protected heath information, and test kits.

The testing itself is drive-thru style and happens outside the tents. On Monday, medical staff stood under heat lamps.

“What we've learned from viruses like SARS and other coronaviruses is they can really rapidly disseminate through a hospital and cripple a health care work force. We're trying to stay ahead of it and prevent that from happening,” Cohen said.

People showing symptoms book an appointment then meet medical staff wearing full protective gear. The patient rolls down a window, and a medical professional swabs the patient in both nasal cavities.

After the swab, it gets put into a tube with a solution to preserve the virus, that all goes into a biohazard bag and into a mini fridge until the end of the day – when it goes to a UW lab for sample to be tested.