EDINBURG — The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine rolled out COVID-19 drive-thru testing at its Edinburg and Brownsville campuses Monday, testing 50 people between the two sites.
Although these testing locations are the frontline in the war against the coronavirus, they’re fairly undramatic: white tents in parking lots, casting shade over a few folding tables and some chairs. The site is surrounded by caution tape and traffic cones and serious-looking signs.
The Edinburg location was calm Monday, with nurses and doctors chatting casually with each other in masks and face shields and billowing plastic bibs. UTRGV security personnel, also wearing protective equipment, directed traffic from a distance.
Dr. John Krouse, the school of medicine’s dean, says 40 tests were conducted in Edinburg Monday and 10 in Brownsville.
“That was a good start. We’ve had well over 500 people call for testing and we’re screening those,” he said. “Tomorrow is full also, so we have about 50 more we’re going to be doing tomorrow, and it looks like for the foreseeable future we’re going to be in that range.”
According to Krouse, 50 tests a day is roughly the university’s capacity for testing at the moment.
“We’re doing these in-house, so we have our own virology lab that runs the specimens, and their capacity right now with their equipment in one shift is about 45, something in that range,” he said.
According to Krouse, the university hopes to double that number by the end of the week.
“We’ll be up to almost 100 a day,” he said. “I think at this point 100 is about what we need, but we suspect that over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at a larger demand than that.”
To break that 100-tests-a-day limit, Krouse says the university is looking into purchasing equipment that will help technicians process the test kits faster.
“We’re looking at opportunities, we might be able to do that,” he said. “From our standpoint, we will run up against the limit of our own hardware. In order to do this, you need to have scientific equipment that allows you to process a certain number of specimens. What we have requires careful attention by the scientists who do the tests; there are other types of more-automated tests that are on the market.”
Krouse said the university has no shortage of test kits.
“Test kits we make ourselves, so test kits are not an issue,” he said. “One of the advantages of being a research university is we can make our own test kits.”
The supply of personnel protective equipment, or PPEs, for the drive-thrus is less certain, but for now, Krouse says the university’s supply of masks and shields and gloves is adequate.
“We have to use them judiciously, but at least at this point we have what we need to do what we’re doing,” he said. “Everyone there from the security guards to the people dealing with the patients are wearing protective equipment.”
In addition to PPEs, Krouse said protocols are in place to protect the medical personnel at the sites and the public.
“Clearly it’s at an isolated area of the campus, both in Edinburg and Brownsville. We have UTRGV security personnel at those sites, so to come you have to have scheduled an appointment. You have to be symptomatic, so you need to go through a screen,” he said. “This is a virus also that is not spread through the air more than a few yards, so we’re not at all concerned about any exposure to anyone else on the campus or in the area.”
The drive-thru sites will be open to employees, students and the public, and on-site evaluations will be available by appointment only for those 18 years of age or older who qualify after mandatory telephone screening, a release from the university said.
The release also said that individuals without insurance can get screened at no cost, with evaluation results expected “within days for those tested.”
Make an appointment by calling (833) 887-4863.