covid testing

Quamea Richards (left) and Tawanna Thomas, of AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, prepare for a long line of patients at a drive-up COVID-19 testing facility at the Georgian Place in Somerset on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

SOMERSET – Over the past three days, Randy Makin said he has lost his appetite, his usual energy and his sense of taste.

But when the Somerset man discovered he’d also lose $300 for a COVID-19 test over the weekend, he hesitated.

“That’s a whole bunch to pay,” Makin said. 

“But when my daughter found out I couldn’t taste anything (Sunday), she gave me that extra nudge I needed. And I ended up here.”

For Makin, “here” was the inside of his family’s crossover sport utility vehicle, which was inching forward in a line of cars heading toward a no-cost, drive-thru testing site set up Monday by the Department of Health.

Parked toward the middle of a meandering line that extended from the rear of the Georgian Place’s factory shop offices toward its North Center Street entrance, he was one of 217 people who showed up for a free swab test during the clinic’s first day of operation this week.

“I’m hoping I don’t have it,” Makin said from behind a black respirator-style mask. 

“But I’ve got kids, family and work – a job – to think about.”

The concerns Makin expressed Monday – cost included – are a big reason the Department of Health is setting up drive-thru clinics across the state, according to Terry Fox, who oversees Pennsylvania’s southwestern region for the department.

Similar locations have opened – or are scheduled to – in every county without a county-level health department. Both Cambria and Bedford hosted clinics over the past month.

Under a temporary car port built at the rear of the Georgian Place, staff with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare were set up at the front of the line to handle the procedure. Wearing gloves, masks and face shields, workers conducted the test by swabbing each patient’s nasal passageway and then safely collecting a sample for off-site lab testing.

Because the test could be conducted through a car window, people who arrived for testing didn’t have to leave their vehicles.

Fox said patients were being asked to bring photo IDs and insurance information if they have it, but that any costs were being covered. The information being collected is necessary for AMI to receive government reimbursement for its testing costs, he said.

Fox said the drive-thru clinic opened a few minutes after 9 a.m. and had steady traffic all day.

Some, including Beverly Lucas and Mark Schech, of Somerset, said they weren’t experiencing any symptoms.

But the testing site was less than five miles from home, Lucas said.

“We wanted to play it safe,” she said. 

“We’ve been careful.

“But we just decided ‘let’s go get it done.’ ”

The Department of Health worked with Somerset County Emergency Management Agency Director Joel Landis to set up the pop-up space.

Landis said the agency provided trailers that could serve as offices for health workers, a generator and lined up the Georgian Place for a testing site.

PennDOT supplied rubber cones to help direct traffic toward the testing area.

Somerset County has seen a sharp spike in COVID-19 positives since Dec. 1, with its total cases growing by 60% over that span.

But Fox noted that isn’t the reason the drive-thru site opened Monday.

“It was just on the list,” he said.

Landis noted the timing is good though.

There are likely Somerset County residents who have traveled over the holidays, spent time with family “and maybe just want to be careful,” at a time cases are growing – “and with this clinic, they don’t even have to get out of their vehicles,” Landis said.

“Getting a test is part of what it takes to mitigate the spread,” he said.

With vaccines being rolled out to front line health-care workers, Pennsylvania can see there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – but the battle isn’t over yet, he added.

“We have to be vigilant right now,” Landis said.

The clinic is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Friday.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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