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Allegheny Health Network Starts Drive-Through Testing For COVID-19

Gene J. Puskar
Cars line up outside the Central Outreach Wellness Center on the Northside of Pittsburgh Monday, March 16, 2020, for drive-by testing for COVID-19.

Allegheny Health Network is offering drive-through testing for COVID-19 starting Wednesday in Wexford.

AHN is the first major health system in the Pittsburgh area to offer this service, though earlier this week Central Outreach Wellness Center on Pittsburgh’s North Side also began providing drive through testing. Samples submitted to providers at either location are anaylzed by commerical labs.

In addition to the Wexford location, AHN said it will roll out sites in Bethel Park, Monroeville and Erie within the week. Sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“[Patients] will remain in their vehicles for the duration of the collection process,” said Dr. Thomas Walsh, an infectious disease specialist. “We’re doing that because we really want to minimize congregation, in waiting in lines and waiting rooms, to really decrease the potential the spread of COVID-19.”

AHN said anyone getting a COVID-19 test will also submit samples for influenza. Flu test results will be available in 24 hours; COVID-19 results will take two or three days, maybe longer if testing volume is high.

Walsh said if someone tests positive for flu, that doesn’t mean the COVID-19 test will be automatically canceled. Instead the patient’s provider will be contacted, to determine where or not to continue with the COVID-19 test.

“[There are] some reports that coinfection is rare with COVID-19 and other pathogens; some studies have looked at two percent or less,” said Dr. Thomas Walsh, an infectious disease specialist based in Pittsburgh.

Unlike the drive-through testing at Central Outreach Wellness Center, AHN is not offering on-demand or walk-up testing. To get a test, AHN requires that people first be evaluated by a provider, who will then write a prescription for testing.

“[This] is to make sure that folks aren’t coming in with self-diagnosis, getting screened, and using up supplies and testing that should go to individuals that actually need to be tested,” said Dr. Brian Parker. “As testing become more available that may change.”

Instead of going into an AHN emergency room or clinic to see if they need a test, patients are encouraged to set up a video appointment, or call AHN’s 24-hour nurse hotline.

Once operations ramp up, sites estimate they can collect samples from up to 20 patients an hour. This week AHN estimated that collection volume would be roughly 50 patients a day, per site.

UPMC began offering testing at its facility on Pittsburgh's South Side on Tuesday; patients must have a physician referral.

WESA recieves funding from Allegheny Health Network and UPMC.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.