Move toward consistent COVID-19 testing sites continues

In recent weeks, Delaware has moved the focus of its COVID-19 testing operation to static sites with consistent hours at clinics, service centers and drug stores across the state.

AJ Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said these new sites began coming on line in early September.
“Part of it was, at the time, we were seeing a little lull in testing participation,” he said.

Mr. Schall said the goal of the static testing sites was to boost the rate of testing by making testing opportunities easier for people to find and fit into their schedules.

“We’re going to have the same number of sites, but now they’re available Monday through Friday, some even Saturday and Sunday with extended hours,” he said. “We don’t want somebody that lives in Dover to wait for the Monday site at DelTech to get tested because it’s Tuesday and there’s nothing in his neighborhood for four or five days.”

This is not the only effort the Department of Public Health and DEMA are making to increase testing.

“It’s not just because of the static sites,” Mr. Schall said. “It’s because of the at-home kits that we launched and doing testing that’s gone after a lot of specific outreach from schools to their students and teachers.”

On Tuesday, the phased return to in-person classes for the Milford School District led many local families to get tested at a pop-up drive-thru testing event at Milford High School.

“My youngest is already back in school and this one will be back in school soon,” Milford resident Melissa Ench said of her decision to get herself and her two daughters, 7 and 14, tested. “It’s just to prevent the spread.”

Ms. Ench picked the Milford High site because the event has been advertised by the school district and was right around the corner from her house.

“I don’t have a problem with the service center,” she said. “I actually work for the service center in Georgetown.”

The drive-thru event was just easier for her.

Lincoln resident Keith Mosher also came to get tested with his wife Karlin Maull and their 11- and 7-year-old sons because the school district wanted them to.

“It’s something they’re encouraging all the students and families to do with hybrid starting back this week, just to make sure everyone’s healthy,” he said.

Ms. Maull said she wanted to do it “just to know our status and make us feel like we’re helping our community be safe.”

Milford resident Mark Chamberlin was also at the Milford High event. He’d been tested eight times before and was getting tested again because he was going on a trip to see his sister in South Carolina.

“I do know about the service center, but I didn’t know they were doing testing right now,” he said of the static site for the Milford area on Northeast Front Street.

“It’s a lot easier for individuals to get to a stable site as opposed to sites that are moving around,” said Sgt. Albert Whitlock of Delaware’s Army National Guard, who has been working on testing sites since May.

“It’s in a centralized location. They can get to it every week if they need to for their job as opposed to hoping that they’ll be close to one of our road sites,” he said.

This is important for health care workers like LeShaunda Allen of Greenwood, who works at Vitas Hospice and was getting tested at Milford High.

“I’ve been tested a lot. We’ve been tested every week since March,” she said. “My job was doing testing, but they stopped doing it every week. So now I make an appointment at whatever place is local and convenient.”

She likes being able to make her testing appointments online like the Curative oral swab drive-thru testing operations. At the static locations, those looking for an appointment need to call the office.

Mr. Schall said DEMA and DPH have no intention of stopping the pop-up drive-thru testing sites that have been the backbone of the state’s testing operations for months. He said there were 20 drive-up sites last week, 18 this week and 15 planned for next week.

“You will probably see an increase in the number of community sites we’re doing over the next month. But you’re probably going to see smaller sites,” he said.

One new format DEMA is looking into features mobile trailers where people can drive up, exit their car and walk up to a window where medical professionals can administer Curative brand oral swab tests.

“It’s something where we’re able to schedule people. They can also show up the day of the event,” Mr. Schall said. “We can control the flow a little bit. People can stay in their cars until they come up to the window.”

He believes these trailers make more sense for the state than the more traditional drive-thru events the state has put on because even though they have a smaller capacity, they allow the state to cover more ground.

“The trailer might be able to do 600 people a day and a drive-thru might do 1,000. But if we can put three trailers out there (in different places) and do 2,000 people, that’s even better,” Mr. Schall said.

He said the static sites generally have a lower capacity.

“Some of these clinics and service centers can only do 50 to 200 a day depending on how many people we have there. So that’s the limiting factor,” Mr. Schall said.

He also said that while most people can get tested at the static centers whether they have an appointment or not, that’s not universally true.

“With the static sites it’s more or less a capacity-driven issue,” Mr. Schall said. “We know toward the last hour of the day we might have to turn some people away who are walk-ups and don’t have an appointment just because we have to get the kits to the labs.”

He also said some of the static locations are busier than others.

“The two busiest centers are in Claymont and New Castle. They are getting booked with their slots each day but still kind of accepting walk-ups,” Mr. Schall said.

“The other ones, like Milford and Laurel, there are days when they’re full and there are days when they’re not,” he said.
The static service sites are not easier or cheaper for the state to operate, Mr. Schall said.

“They’re more predictable for citizens,” he said. “It’s probably a little bit more of a logistical lift to keep them stocked.”

The state’s testing rate has remained relatively consistent, but DPH has not seen an increase in testing as the new static locations have come online since late August.

Between Aug. 23 and Oct. 3, DPH counted 126,586 tests, which is 225 fewer than the number of tests conducted between July 12 and Aug. 22.

Between Aug. 23 and Oct. 3, DPH said 71,383 of the tests were conducted on people who had never been tested before, which is 10,413 fewer new people tested than between July 12 and Aug. 22.

As the weather gets colder and some prepare for a second wave of the virus, Mr. Schall said DEMA and DPH are exploring ways to alter their testing operations.

“We’re not going to get people to come into a parking lot when it’s freezing cold,” he said.

Instead, Mr. Schall hopes to strengthen the partnership with schools, houses of prayer and other community organizations so that testing opportunities will remain common and accessible.

“We want people to get tested at least once a month depending on their job and their exposure,” he said. “We’re not a one-size-fits-all testing strategy. We want to find out what works for each community and what they’re comfortable with.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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