Burlington County answers demands for drive-thru testing with more hoped

A need for more testing in Burlington County was answered as county officials hosted its first drive-thru clinic. And it hit capacity within hours.

Call to schedule an appointment, arrive, have a test strip inserted in the nostrils, go home. 

Burlington County has made COVID-19 testing easier for residents to gain access to with the use of a drive-thru testing at its Emergency Services Center in Westampton. First round of testing completed on March 26 with more expected to be announced as cases continue to rise. 

At least 160 people in the county tested positive for the novel coronavirus, as of deadline, as director of the county’s health department Dr. Herb Conaway sees testing as a way to learn about the virus’s spread. 

Conaway is also the chair of the county’s COVID-19 Task Force, which includes other county agencies and personnel.

“One of the things we want to know is how this virus moves throughout our community, how can we tell if so many people are carrying it are asymptomatic,” he shared during a press conference. “We really need to do a massive community-wide testing to get a sense of judgment in how we do learn how this virus moves through the county.”

Only Burlington County residents are allowed to be tested at the county-run sites, with the exception of first responders and nurses working in the county to access testing due to their exposure to the virus. Prior to a resident arriving at the Westampton site, Conaway explained they must call a hotline — (609) 726-7097 — to be screened by a medical professional and later schedule an appointment. 

All appointments were filled for March 26, with additional appointments scheduled, and later filled, for the March 30, April 1 and 3 testing dates. It is the hope to add more testing sites. 

The screening process includes the patient describing what symptoms they are experiencing and the severity of the symptoms. If the person has manageable symptoms, Conaway said they are typically asked to self-quarantine for 15 days away from everyone and follow the directives of doctors.

At the testing site, drivers are instructed to remain in their cars while a nurse walks up to either the passenger or driver-side window (dependent on where the patient is sitting); nasal test strips are removed from packaging and inserted in the person’s nostrils, roughly an inch or two into the nasal cavity. Strips are removed and patients are given instructions on quarantines.

“We will be putting the specimen in the freezer to freeze them, and at the end of the drive thrus, employees will carry the tests to the lab and there they will start working on those tests,” he explained.

Results are expected to be reported within two to three days from a private, unnamed lab. As the need for testing increases, Conaway hopes there will soon be the ability to have results come back in less than a day.

When tests come back positive, Conaway said the county’s health department contacts the patient to learn where they traveled, worked and whom they interacted with. Those people are then notified they interacted with a positive COVID-19 case, and the process repeats on them.

If the person attended large gatherings, Conaway added, a notice is delivered via the county’s various social channels to inform the public.

Westampton’s location in the county may not be as easily accessible to residents in the southern or eastern sections. The task force is surveying other possible future drive-thru sites as the need continues to grow.

“For instance, the DMV (inspection) facilities have bays just like this where they can maintain inter-directional flow of traffic and we will look at opening other centers for the access questions that have been raised,” Conaway shared.

Falling into the same shortages hospital systems face around the area and across the nation, he explained Personal Protective Equipment is reserved for medical professionals directly in contact with patients and are properly disposed of after interactions. 

As of deadline, the National Guard has not been deployed to Burlington’s test sites, but could be directed as Gov. Phil Murphy sees fit. 

Updates on case totals and future drive-thru testing sites are published by the county on its website, Co.Burlington.NJ.US.