CORONAVIRUS

Availability of tests, PPE hamper drive-through testing

Retailers say they remain committed

Health care workers tend to a driver in line at a drive-through coronavirus testing site at the Westminster Mall in West
Health care workers tend to a driver in line at a drive-through coronavirus testing site at the Westminster Mall in Westminster, Calif., on April 8. (Los Angeles Times/TNS)

More than a month ago, President Donald Trump stood in the Rose Garden alongside the CEOs of Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens and announced a new public-private partnership to make drive-through tests available in store parking lots across the country.

Five weeks later, that effort has been slow to ramp up, as governors and business leaders clamor to find a way to provide more widespread testing so parts of the economy can be reopened.

Main stumbling blocks have been the same challenges that health care practitioners face nationwide — access to testing supplies and personal protective equipment.

Also, the partnership is a loosely coordinated one with much of the work being left up to retailers and states to hash out.

Retailers said they are committed to the effort, but noted it has taken time to coordinate and to pilot the sites to figure out how to best set them up.

After seeing what did and didn’t work, they have adjusted their operations and now are beginning to expand them.

Walmart has opened nine drive-through testing sites, with plans for 20 by the end of the month. Walgreens has opened nine of 15 sites planned so far.

CVS has opened five. Target has just one, with one more slated to open in the coming week.

At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it continues to work with pharmacies and retail companies to accelerate testing.

“We are using data to locate sites in counties that are under-tested and socially vulnerable,” the department said in a statement.

It added that the retail partners are responsible for providing the end-to-end testing process including online registration, staffing, supplies and lab testing.

The companies also must provide the tests at no cost to Americans, the federal agency said.

Target has only drive-through testing site, set up outside its store in Chula Vista, Calif.

Target CEO Brian Cornell told reporters late last month that the company will have to rely on CVS, to which it sold its in-store pharmacies, to provide the technical knowledge and the staffing for the testing effort.

About a week after the Rose Garden announcement, CVS opened its first testing site in a store parking lot in Massachusetts. It was able to test about 150 to 200 people a day using a nasal swab test, with a two-day wait for results from a national lab.

“We learned a lot from our first pilot test site,” said Joseph Goode, a CVS spokesman. “The size of the location and the nasopharyngeal swab test limited our capacity to test, required more resources and took a number of days to get results back to patients.”

CVS put its next few locations in larger and more accessible parking lots away from its stores — in a college parking garage in Atlanta, at a casino in Rhode Island, at a movie theater in Massachusetts. It set up multiple lanes for testing.

It also now is using the recently federally approved Abbott ID NOW test, which give results back within 15 minutes. Walgreens also is using the Abbott device at its testing locations.

CVS can now test 1,000 people a day at each of these newer sites.

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.