UW Medicine drive-through coronavirus testing opens for patients in Northgate

Mar 17, 2020, 3:48 PM
Now, getting a coronavirus test just involves doing a nasal swab from the convenience of the driver's seat. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)
(Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

Drive up, swab your nose, drive away — that’s how quickly you can get tested for coronavirus, thanks to the University of Washington School of Medicine’s drive-through testing facility in Northgate.

Previously open just to employees, students, and first responders, the appointment-only drive-through is now taking patients who are part of the UW Medicine system.

Though some hospitals are now doing on-site testing, doctors say the drive-through can be the safest way to get a swab.

“There are a number of our patients who may not be appropriate to be sending into [hospitals], to minimize the risk of infection to themselves, and perhaps to others,” said Dr. Thomas Hei, associate medical director at UW Medical Center.

UW School of Medicine ready to test 1,000 samples per day

If the potentially sick person is enclosed inside an automobile, they are already somewhat in isolation.

“It’s an efficient space; you stay in your vehicle, it takes five minutes to get the specimen from your nose, and it’s outside, so there are a lot of benefits” said Susan Gregg, media relations director for UW Medicine. “Also you’ve got nurses here outside, so it’s just an efficient way to do it safely.”

While the drive-through conveniently condenses the testing process to the amount of time it takes to order a hamburger, it’s not nearly as accessible as a Burger King.

“We are focusing on the highest-risk patients at the University of Washington, and this is by appointment only to try to control for that possibility,” Hei said. “I can’t emphasize enough that it is not as if this is a retail, drive-up, drive-through testing site.”

If you suspect you have the virus, you still have to go to a primary care physician and get a referral; you can either visit one of UW Medicine’s 38 primary care clinics or the online virtual clinic. If the doctor believes your symptoms warrant a test, he or she will give you a referral. Then — if you are able to safely get behind the wheel — you can make an appointment at the Northgate drive-through testing facility.

“This site is really for patients who can drive, and who are able to drive, ideally by themselves, so as to minimize transmission to other passengers in the car,” Hei said.

Right now, the Northgate drive-through can accommodate up to 50 patients a day, but the UW hopes to soon expand testing to more locations so more patients can be served.

“Seeing what’s happening in Seattle is something that other communities need to take into account, and begin at minimum planning and testing the capabilities, doing what we’re trying to do,” Hei said.

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UW Medicine drive-through coronavirus testing opens for patients in Northgate