New York State established a drive-thru coronavirus testing center at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh last week, part of a rapidly growing series of efforts to get a handle on the spread of COVID-19 on Long Island.
Testing at Jones Beach is being conducted at the Field 2 parking lot by Hazmat-suit-clad medical professionals in a series of three outdoor tents each large enough to accompany two cars at a time. Testing is being done by appointment, anybody who wishes to be tested must first receive approval and an appointment by calling the state’s coronavirus hotline at 1-888-364-3065. Callers will be evaluated based on whether they feel sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing and have been in close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19, or have recently traveled to a country where the virus is currently spreading. Testing is free, and the Jones Beach center is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. In the center’s first day of operation on Tuesday, March 17, it processed just under 500 people.
A reporter from Long Island Weekly called the state’s coronavirus hotline on Friday morning to assess the system. The estimated wait time for people outside of New Rochelle to speak to an attendant and book an appointment was 78 to 88 minutes. For additional information, the estimated wait was 39 to 49 minutes.
While the site of infectious disease testing being conducted in a state park might seem odd at first, Dr. Cynthia Paulis remarked after visiting the test site that the setup was a “brilliant” way to protect both patients and workers from additional exposure or infection that could come with conducting such a high volume of tests in a hospital.
“This is pure genius, because rather than being tested in a hospital where you can easily contract something, you’re not exposed to anybody else because they just lean into your car and swab you and you’re on your way,” Paulis said. “You’re in and out in 15 minutes.”
In addition to the Jones Beach Center, the state opened a separate drive-thru facility for Suffolk County residents at Stony Brook University. ProHEALTH has also opened up two drive-thru testings centers at their facilities in Little Neck and Jericho. Appointments can be made after calling 516-874-0411 for a phone-based triage. Testing is available for anybody at any ProHEALTH urgent care center, but the drive-thrus are being restricted to ProHEALTH members by appointment to help ensure a rapid turnaround from testing to results and prevent anybody from suffering a medical event while waiting.
“What we’re doing is making sure that we control the flow,” ProHEALTH Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Daniel Griffin said. “That’s critical, because you don’t want somebody in a three-hour wait of cars if they’re not feeling well.”
While there is still no effective treatment for COVID-19, Griffin said testing can still be useful from a public-health perspective to get a handle on the problem as a whole.
“What we’re doing here is basically turning on the lights so that people know who’s infected and they know what the numbers are,” Griffin said. “And from a public health perspective, that’s ultimately going allow us to get a handle on this and figure out how we stop the spread. And on an individual level if you know it actually allows you to get the healthcare that you need.”
As of Friday, March 20, there are more than 700 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nassau County. Four Nassau residents have died from the illness, most recently a 44-year-old man with underlying heart problems, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. New York State now has more than 7,000 confirmed cases, around 40 percent of the total number of confirmed cases in the country to date.
The massive spike in cases over the past few days is a reflection of the spike in the number of tests being conducted throughout the state, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said. As recently as the beginning of February, there was just one lab in the entire country that had approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to test for coronavirus. Last week, Cuomo mentioned the state had contracted at least 28 private labs itself to conduct tests, adding that New York “can’t rely on the CDC or the FDA” for tests.