As the need and desire for COVID-19 testing grows, area health care systems are opening drive-thru testing sites to meet the demand.

From Lynnwood to Puyallup people are driving through makeshift testing locations and having nurses swab the inside of their noses.

To build capacity for COVID-19 screening, UW has added a drive-up appointment-only clinic at their Northwest Outpatient Medical Center open to UW Medicine patients, employees and first responders. (Ramon Dompor / The Seattle Times)

On Monday, UW Medicine began testing the public for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, at a drive-thru testing location in Northgate, where 15 people were tested. The testing is being done in the parking lot of the University of Washington Medicine’s Northwest Outpatient Medical Center.

The location is designated only for UW Medicine patients who schedule an appointment after their doctor sends them for testing. The tests are being processed at a UW lab, and it is expected to be a least a couple of days before results are available.

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On Tuesday morning, the first patient of the day rolled up to the site tucked just west of Interstate 5 in the parking lot’s southeast corner.

The man in a gold Chevrolet SUV halted at a makeshift stop sign and was greeted by a nurse wearing protective gear. He held his driver’s license to the window, which he had cracked an inch.

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The nurse had him pull forward alongside two white tents where three other nurses, all in protective gear, were waiting. The man rolled his window all the way down as a nurse swabbed the inside of his nose, then he pulled away. The entire process took no more than three minutes.

Additional drive-thru sites for UW Medicine patients could be announced next week, said Dr. Thomas Hei, the medical director for UW Medicine’s outpatient clinics.

The nurses working the testing site can do about 50 patients a day with appointments staggered every 15 minutes, said Susan Gregg, a UW Medicine spokeswoman.

UW Medicine began testing employees, UW students, health care workers and first responders on March 6. The decision to broaden testing to those who use UW Medicine was due to high demand, Hei said as traffic rumbled by on I-5.

“We are responding to the broad need for public testing,” he said.

On March 11, Kaiser Permanente Washington set up drive-thru testing sites at its medical centers in Lynnwood and Puyallup, and at its administrative campus in Renton. A couple of days later, another testing site opened at Kaiser’s Factoria location in Bellevue. By March 19, Kaiser will add locations in Capitol Hill, Olympia and Burien, which will replace the Renton site.

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Kaiser’s testing is for patients in its system who are referred by their doctor, said Linnae Riesen, a Kaiser spokeswoman.

Since starting the testing last week, about 850 people have been tested. Their samples are being sent to labs certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are generally taking about 48 hours for results to come back, Riesen said.

The people being sent to the drive-thru at UW Medicine in Northgate are not the sickest and should still be able to drive and are encouraged to do so alone, Hei said.

The second scheduled appointment Tuesday was a woman who showed up wearing a mask in the back of a small, pink Mitsubishi, sitting next to an infant baby seat.

The nurses quickly swabbed her nose, and about two minutes later the car pulled away.

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