Health

The University of Louisville has begun drive-thru coronavirus testing for a limited number of high-risk patients.

Now that testing capacity is increasing, U of L hopes to utilize drive-thru’s as a safe, efficient means of testing a large number of people without overwhelming healthcare providers. But on Thursday U of L physicians began with a soft opening, clearing just 12 high-risk patients for appointments at the drive-thru in downtown off Liberty Street.

“Really, what we want to do is to centralize this, to get it away from our clinics so that our patients aren’t exposing those other patients that are just there for routine care,” said Hugh Shoff, emergency medicine physician and chief quality officer for U of L Health.

After making an appointment with their physician, patients simply show up at the designated time, present their ID and drive up for a sample. Workers gather samples by swabbing inside the back of the nose. That sample goes into a tube, gets placed in a bag and is sent off to a lab for testing, Shoff said.

Right now, U of L is still figuring out its process to see how much volume they can handle, he said. They are also looking to include a similar process for people who think they might have the virus, but don’t have a vehicle for drive-thru testing.

“If you look at some of the testing areas, they can do up to one patient per 10 minutes,” Shoff said. “But we are really kind of testing to see how our process works and what that volume might look like.”

Shoff could not say when U of L plans to expand testing, but he said it will begin with testing those most at risk, including older adults with underlying health conditions including heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and COPD.

In Kentucky and across the country, testing remains limited and federal guidelines call on doctors to reserve them for the most vulnerable: those who are already hospitalized, high-risk individuals and healthcare workers.

But testing capacity has begun to increase. Over the last week, Kentucky has moved from testing dozens to hundreds of samples per day. As of Wednesday, more than 3,300 tests were performed on Kentucky residents.

As testing capacity ramps up, drive-thru’s can help by minimizing the burden on hospitals and limiting contact with infected patients, said Dr. Aruni Bhanagar, U of L professor of medicine.

“I think that’s the only way. I mean we don’t want to subject our healthcare workers to extended periods of interactions with large groups of people,” Bhatnagar said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.