HUNTINGTON — As nurses and other members of the Marshall Health team made final preparations to open a drive-through COVID-19 testing site Thursday, cars with residents needing to be tested for the new virus were already lining up.

The site, run by Marshall Health, Mountain Health Network and the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, opened at 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the St. Mary’s Center for Continuing Education. Patients with a doctor’s order who meet the screening criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health can come to the drive-through and get tested.

Those without a doctor’s order and/or insurance also may get tested if they meet the criteria, said Dr. Charles Clements, family health physician at Marshall Health.

Beginning Friday, March 20, the drive-through will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Physicians, nurses and staff from Marshall Health will be on-site to do the swab test.

“This is our effort to provide testing without exposing people with chronic illnesses because we know they do poorly with this virus,” Clements said.

Clements said the site Thursday had 30 tests and Marshall Health had 70 total, though they anticipated a delivery of about 300 Friday.

The physician encouraged people experiencing symptoms like cough and shortness of breath to call their primary care physician instead of walking into the office. The physician should then screen the patient for the testing criteria. Patients also will be screened at the drive-through, even if they already have a doctor’s order, as tests are still limited and are being reserved for the most vulnerable.

Testing criteria, as set by the CDC and state, are as follows:

  1. Seriously ill individuals hospitalized or otherwise at high risk of complications: This includes seriously ill individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 who are hospitalized, near hospitalization or otherwise at highest risk of poor health outcomes (e.g. those who are elderly or have serious underlying chronic diseases, nursing home residents, etc.) and who do not have another identified cause for their illness (e.g. flu, other respiratory viruses). No history of potential exposure is needed for these patients.
  2. Individuals at medium to high risk of having been infected: This includes any individual with symptoms of lower respiratory illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath) and a history of likely exposure to COVID-19 within 14 days of symptom onset (e.g. close contact with an individual confirmed to have COVID-19 or recent travel history from or living in areas with widespread community transmission) and do not have another identified cause for their illness (e.g. flu or other respiratory viruses).

Clements said guidelines are changing every day, but stressed risk is still low for West Virginians. He also said increasing the number of tests being performed will help evaluate risk level.

Valley Health Systems is also preparing to offer drive-through testing. Beginning Saturday, March 21, Valley Health will offer testing at the former Milton location — 1 Harbour Way — and at the East Huntington location beginning Monday, March 23. Testing is only available to individuals who have completed a telehealth assessment and have been advised by their telehealth provider to proceed to a drive-through testing location.

Patients may request a telehealth appointment no earlier than 8 a.m. Friday. To schedule, call 304-399-3358, and a Valley Health employee will register you with the next available telehealth provider.

During a news conference with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, state health officer Dr. Cathy Slemp said once a positive case is identified, the state begins an investigation that starts with the infected patient to see how they are doing, risk level and who they have been in contact with. They will then contact those individuals to determine if they need to be tested or need to self-quarantine. Slemp said if you are not contacted by public health, then you do not need to worry.

“If we felt public exposure was high risk, we would make it be known in the community,” Slemp said, adding they will let the public know what it needs to know while still protecting the patient’s identity.

In a media call Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., reiterated he felt any West Virginian with symptoms should be tested, and encouraged anyone having issues getting tested to contact his office.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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