FLOYD COUNTY — Health officials are finding ways to amplify the number of tests being conducted to identify new cases of COVID-19.
The disease caused by the novel coronavirus was first diagnosed in Southern Indiana last weekend. Since then, it has been found in both Clark and Floyd counties, with five cases total in the latter. One positive case has been identified in Clark.
Three patients were being treated at Baptist Health Floyd, with the other two in self-quarantine at their homes.
In an effort to streamline the testing process, the Floyd County Health Department has launched a new pilot project that will utilize a drive-thru format. The goal is to identify and test patients that are not in need of immediate hospitalization.
“We were really happy with the results,” Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris said after the first testing window of the initiative Friday.
Harris said that around 20 people were tested between noon and 3 p.m. In a release, the plan was referred to as a “project in evolution.”
The current format allows pre-screened patients to pull into a series of marked lanes in the parking lot of the Floyd County Health Department, which sits adjacent to Baptist Health Floyd. On hand were healthcare workers as well as two officers from the New Albany Police Department to assist in the process — something for which Harris was appreciative.
Upon arrival, patients present an ID or insurance card, then a swab of the nasal cavity is completed.
One of the first facets that can be adjusted moving forward, Harris said, is the amount of time allotted for each drive-up patient.
“We had budgeted 10 minutes per encounter to get a feeling for how hard it would be,” Harris said. “What we found out was that, that was way more than enough time. We’re going to tighten that up.”
A point being stressed by Harris is that walk-in testing is not being offered. To get tested, patients must first make contact with the health department or receive pre-screening by their primary care provider.
What ensues is a survey to identify risk factors that could lead to a test being administered. If a test is deemed necessary, patients will be given a time to take the drive-thru test.
“We’re looking for people that fit that current state and federal criteria,” Harris said. “If you’re a healthcare worker that’s ill, we’ll test you. Same for if you’re a caregiver. We’re taking care of people over 60 who have fever, cough and chills. Other people would be those who have recently been in jail, or homeless people.”
The presence of symptoms is a big factor. Harris said a problem nationally has been the use of tests on those who either have another diagnosis or who do not currently present symptoms. Though two sizable companies — Humana and Caesars Southern Indiana — have seen workers acquire the disease, he added that no single employer will receive preferential treatment.
Instead, employees will have had to come in close contact with identified carriers and be displaying symptoms themselves.
Harris noted that he was pleased with the amount of tests administered on the first day. In preceding days, tests had been much harder to acquire, and private labs were not being utilized.
“This is really using criteria that came out Monday evening,” he said. “Prior to that, the number of tests were not high. We didn’t have the private lab option up until this week. Before that, it all had to be run by University of Louisville or the Indiana State Department of Health...”
Friday’s smooth process shows that the concept does work, Harris said. There are some things that can be improved, but it will take some pressure off hospitals and urgent care facilities.
While the test itself takes minutes, it could take several days for results to return. Harris said his team will focus on sending out tests over the weekend and get back to the drive-thru Monday.
In the meantime, Harris highlighted the importance of continuing to follow health advisories.
“We still recommend that everyone practice social distancing to minimize unnecessary risk,” he said. “Don’t touch your face, and stay at home if you’re feeling sick. Stay in tune with the media. This issue evolves daily. We’ve had different instructions in the evening than what we were given in the morning. It’s a good time to keep up with the news.”