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Walmart, Quest team up to provide free COVID tests

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Walmart Pharmacist Shane Saunders works at his cart at the drive-up, rapid COVID-19 testing site in the Walmart parking lot.

Several Warren County residents were tested for COVID-19 on Friday.

Walmart and Quest Diagnostics have teamed up to provide free, drive-up, contactless testing from 7 to 9 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in the Walmart parking lot in North Warren.

The testing requires pre-registration at least one day in advance and is intended for those who have symptoms or have had contact with people who are positive for the virus.

There is a survey at myquestcovidtestpa.com that people who think they may need a test may fill out to determine if they are eligible.

Those who qualify are set up with appointments.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Signs at Walmart parking lot tell people how to apply for a free, drive-up, rapid COVID-19 tests.

The program was announced on Tuesday and the first tests were administered Friday.

“It was a great day,” Walmart Pharmacist Shane Saunders said. “We’re very excited to help the hospitals and the community.”

The test determines if patients have the virus, not if they had it and have recovered. “This is an active virus test, not an antibody test,” Saunders said. “A lot of people want to know and they want to know right now.”

And, there is no cost at any point in the testing process.

“This is all free,” Saunders said. “Walmart is paying for all the expenses. We’re not even billing their insurance.”

The process at the parking lot test site moves through three stations – all staffed by Walmart personnel. All personnel are screened before taking their posts each morning.

Signs direct those who are pre-registered into the line.

The first stop is a check-in.

At the second, patients receive their test kits.

The final station is Saunders’.

He is outfitted in a full suit, gloves, mask, and face shield, but the patients don’t get near him.

“It’s totally touchless — contactless,” he said. “They stay in the comfort of their own vehicle with their windows up. Their wellness and health are our utmost priority.”

Patients must arrive in vehicles with cabins and windows. “No (top down or off) convertibles, no motorcycles, no vehicles with the doors or windows removed,” Saunders said.

As a new patient rolls up to Saunders, he holds up a sign with a phone number on it.

The patient calls the number and “I instruct them on how to administer the test,” he said.

He watches and makes sure the steps are done correctly. He times certain portions of the testing.

Patients are generally at the final step for 10 to 15 minutes.

When the sample has been collected, Saunders pushes a cart toward the vehicle, pulls a strap that opens a cooler, and instructs the patient to put the bagged sample in the cooler.

The samples are kept in the cooler and handed off to a representative from the lab immediately after the day’s tests are finished. “Right away I have an ACL driver here to pick them up,” Saunders said.

Patients are told to expect their results with 24 to 72 hours by email or phone.

Saunders saw six patients on Friday and he hopes many more will sign up in the coming weeks.

“It’s been a big success already,” Saunders said. “Our community is very important to us. We want to help as many people as possible. We’re all in this together.”

“We want to take care of people,” he said. “Our hope is we get up very quickly to about 25 people a day. We can do up to 40.”

At least a few people drove up to test personnel Friday and asked questions. Only those who are pre-registered are allowed through the process.

“We’re planning on being here for at least the next six to eight weeks,” he said. “We may very well continue this up through Labor Day.”

“We’re hoping for a great turnout to take the burden off our hospitals as we get through this together,” Saunders said.

Any amount of additional tests in the community would make a difference. Warren General Hospital could use the help.

“I will be very happy if high-quality testing can be made more available to people who need it to be done,” Dr. Keith Price, Warren General Hospital Medical Director, said. “Locally (at WGH), our testing capacity is very low. Despite submitting orders to multiple vendors for months, WGH still receives very few testing supplies.”

“Our supply is lower now that it was one month ago,” Price said. “If we did three to four days of 50 tests, our supply would be completely exhausted.”

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