Starting Friday, medical personnel wearing protective equipment will be ready to screen hundreds of people referred by doctors for COVID-19 testing as they drive through a four-car-wide white tent set up in the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center parking lot.

“It’s all the local health care providers collaborating together,” said Spokane Regional Health District spokesperson Kelli Hawkins. “And they’re working with us.”

The collaborative screening site will divert traffic from, and lessen the threat of exposure at, local emergency departments and urgent care facilities, Hawkins said. It will also give public health officials a better idea of how many samples are being sent to labs for COVID-19 testing.

The site will be equipped to see about 300 cars each day, with up to two people in each car.

“This doesn’t mean go ahead and come on out” to be tested, Hawkins said.

Only people who are referred by their doctor will be sent to the site for a screening, where they will be asked about their symptoms, travel history and contacts with people during the previous two weeks, according to Hawkins.

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After the screening, the provider will determine whether to collect samples from the person at the site and send them to a lab for tests.

Public health officials have received test results from labs in as little as three days, but in some cases the results haven’t come back for about a week, Hawkins said.

An ongoing shortage of test kits – the swabs and containers used to send samples to labs – and capacity at labs remain as obstacles to a higher volume of testing. And labs have prioritized medical providers, first responders, vulnerable populations and people with severe symptoms.

“We’re in favor of more testing, definitely,” Hawkins said. “That’s how we learn more about COVID-19.”

The drive-thru screening site will get a test run today Thursday when local first responders and health care providers who have symptoms and believe they were exposed to the novel coronavirus will get the chance to be tested.

The health district is looking for 40 volunteers to fill two six-hour shifts at the COVID-19 screening site each day starting Thursday, potentially through April 17, according to a Facebook post from the Spokane County Republican Party.

Volunteers, who will be supplied with surgical masks, will not come in direct contact with people being screened and can sign up using an online form.

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