Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
Published 2:30 p.m. ET April 14, 2020 | Updated 4:58 p.m. ET April 14, 2020
Scenes from Detroit as residents learn to live and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and find their new normal.
Detroit Free Press
Oakland County will open a drive-thru site to test for coronavirus infections by the end of the week.
The facility at the county government campus in Pontiac is the county’s first COVID-19 mass-testing location outside of a hospital, and it will open on a limited basis Thursday and Friday before expanding its ability to administer up to 250 tests per day starting Monday.
The county is partnering with Honor Community Health for the venture, which is being modeled after Detroit’s drive-thru testing facility at the state fairgrounds.
“It is to ensure wellness and health of our community,” Dr. Nik Hemady, the chief medical officer for Honor Community Health, said during a news conference Tuesday. “By offering quick and easy testing, we can ensure that our residents are not further spreading this highly contagious virus, and that we are continuing to protect our most vulnerable residents throughout our county. …
“It’s a fairly straightforward process. We want to keep it simple.”
The Oakland County site at 1200 N. Pontiac Road in Pontiac was chosen because of its centrality within the county, space available to provide distance with its large parking area, and to help provide access to one of the least-tested areas within the county. Residents of Pontiac – which officials admitted currently has a low test rate – are among those being given priority in the initial roll-out of the facility, which is expected to test between 50-100 people in each of the first two days.
“We know that testing and data collection are the guideposts to tracking and controlling the spread of this disease,” said Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman, who pointed to the increased numbers of cases and deaths in the black community.
The test will be a nasal swab that will take 5-10 seconds. Others who are considered priority test candidates include first responders, essential and critical infrastructure employees, residents 65 and older and others who have underlying health conditions which increase their risk with COVID-19. Appointments will begin to be scheduled Wednesday by calling the county’s nurse-on-call number (800-848-5533), and the site will be open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. once it is operating at normal capacity.
To be tested, county residents must exude symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing. Asymptomatic individuals will not be granted testing.
“Eventually, we’re going to need to test lots and lots of people,” Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said. “But because of the limited availability of testing at this point, you must have symptoms. And we also at this point have to prioritize who we test. Eventually, in a perfect world, we’re gonna expand this audience.”
Coulter said Oakland County had 5,244 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 350 deaths. The range of those who died are between 23 and 103, with an average age of 75.
Oakland County also on Tuesday released its first total of those who have recovered from the virus. The 298 patients as of Monday who are considered fully recovered are 30 days out from the onset of their illness, which follows the state’s reporting guidelines.
“Tracking recoveries is a positive aspect of our COVID surveillance activities and can really help us understand how the community is doing” Oakland County Health Officer Leigh-Anne Stafford said. “We think it’s very important to share these numbers to support and convey a sense of hope in the community.”
The county also formally announced its order to require workers to wear masks that began Tuesday, with businesses required to be in compliance by April 27. It is aimed mostly at grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies and other businesses where 6-foot social distancing is not possible, with workers required to wear a facial covering which “snugly covers the face and mouth” but should not be a surgical or N95 mask.
“This will be our way of life for a while,” Coulter said.
Coulter said Oakland County officials have been in contact with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and those who are running the state fairgrounds’ drive-through facility and learned a number of lessons about what is needed for staffing and size of the testing site, as well as things that worked well and needed improvement.
Those conversations and observations pointed to appointments being the way to proceed rather than using a first-come, first-serve basis. The space available at the state fairgrounds pointed Oakland County to use its vast campus, which is nearby the county health department and government offices, to line up cars and keep facility workers a safe distance apart. And they also learned to “be prepared for the weather.”
“We had talked about maybe having people stand outside, but it’s still cold and we can still experience rain and wind,” Stafford said. “We wanted to have adequate shelter for those individuals makes sure they’re kept safe as well.”
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