Waiting in line at the drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at the former Sears Auto Center at Park City Mall on Tuesday was familiar for Jennifer Gingerich.
Just last week, Gingerich had waited in line at The Giant Center in Hershey to get a COVID-19 test after visiting her dying mother-in-law in a nursing home. That test had come back inconclusive, she said.
Although she was fully dressed in PPE to say her goodbyes, her employer still needed to see a negative test before she could return to work. So once again Gingerich left her York County home and traveled to find the closest free, walk-in test center.
“It was easy, it was convenient, it’s not far away and everybody there was so nice,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
In fact, Gingerich said she saw the same people working at the location in Lancaster County who she met last week.
The pop-up regional testing sites were launched by the Pennsylvania Department of Health -- contracted through AMI, a Virginia-based healthcare services company -- as a way to ensure more people have access to testing in the 61 counties in the commonwealth without a local health department, according to AMI spokesperson Maggi Barton.
“The main purpose of these testing sites are to ensure anyone who needs a test, can receive a test,” Barton said. “We continue to monitor all testing data and case increases to ensure there are not very high rates of community spread.”
In larger counties, walk-in testing locations and events are common. For example, the Allegheny County Health Department updates the location of a bus that operates as a traveling COVID-19 test site regularly through its social media platforms.
COVID testingWed, Jan 13 1-4pmPrimary Care Health Services Alma Illery7227 Hamilton Avenue Register https://t.co/3CEtyJkhZWNo appointment neededThis is a walkup site not a drive-thruInsurance not required but please bring insurance card if available Test provided at no cost pic.twitter.com/YbGNd6gsAD— Allegheny County Health Department (@HealthAllegheny) January 12, 2021
The site in Lancaster County can test about 450 people per day -- around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, there were about 50 cars waiting in line snaked through the parking lot.
By 3 p.m., the site had to close down for the day after surpassing the daily allotment of test kits.
“I think we saw 125 people in the walk-in and about 320 in the drive-thru, so both of them have been very busy,” said Larissa Gourdet, a New York-based nurse practitioner who is leading the 12-person team conducting tests in the county this week.
Gourdet has been in Pennsylvania with AMI since Sept. 23, helping to run a mobile testing team as it travels across the state. The initial contract with the state was supposed to last for 30 days, but was extended until March 5, she said. Gourdet’s team is one of five operating in the state.
“It’s been great, it’s been good to know that people are appreciative, they are taking advantage of the test,” she said. “A lot of them say they were exposed and they didn’t know where to go, so they’re happy we are here.”
The first day in Lancaster County has been one of the busiest for the team so far, Gourdet said -- in some counties, she said they didn’t even administer 450 tests in an entire week.
Still, the free, walk-in clinic has been popular in the counties they’ve visited.
“People express a lot of gratitude when it comes to that (that it’s free), they feel better,” she said. “It’s a good thing to see that I'm making a change to the community.”
According to Gourdet, those who are tested through the mobile clinic will receive their results within seven days and if they test positive, they will get a phone call. Those with negative test results are notified via email.
Different sites, different rules
The Park City Mall site is not the only drive-thru site operating in the county.
A new drive-thru testing location was opened at the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center in East Hempfield Township this week and is scheduled to run until the beginning of April. The site is a partnership between the county and Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, which moved its downtown testing operation to the new location.
However, to get a test at the new Lancaster General Health location, a person will need to have a referral from a medical provider, said Ed Hurston, Lancaster County's public health emergency adviser during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state-run clinic that runs through Saturday at Park City Mall is the only one that he is aware of that does not require a provider’s order, Hurston said.
To get a provider’s order, an individual typically needs to have COVID-19 symptoms.
The ease of getting in and receiving a test was what attracted Israel Zilinski of Manheim Township to the Park City Mall site on Tuesday.
Zilinski has to be tested before he starts the spring semester at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg next week -- if he doesn’t get tested, he can’t live on campus.
When he got to the Park City test site at 9 a.m., there were about six other people in the room, he said. After filling out information -- his name, phone number and email information so the lab can contact him -- and waiting about 10 minutes, he was up to get swabbed.
“It wasn’t bad, but I can’t say I enjoyed it either,” Zilinski said. “I would say it was more annoying than anything, but I didn’t mind it.”
The temporary test sites are in Lancaster, Bradford, Fulton and Pike counties this week. New location information is released by the state weekly.
Last week’s efforts in five counties resulted in 6,700 individuals being tested, according to a press release from the governor’s office Tuesday.
For Gourdet and her team, the next destination is Adams County