WILMINGTON — New Hanover County public health nurses will begin administering nasal swabs at a drive-through and walk-up testing station set up inside a 100,000-square-foot parking lot in north downtown Wilmington.
Testing will begin at 1 p.m. on Wednesday at the site — located between Brunswick Street and Hanover Street, east of Front Street — as the county aims to achieve its goal of testing 1% of the population, or approximately 2,400 people.
The lot, nearly the size of two football fields in terms of total square footage, has two drive-through tents: one set up for people showing symptoms and have called the county’s Coronavirus Call Center (910-798-6800), and another for those who did not call the number. There will also be two walk-up tents on the east end of the lot where people can be provided masks and get screened for symptoms and then receive nasal swabs.
On Tuesday afternoon, New Hanover County Vice-Chair Patricia Kusek gathered with other county officials to discuss the county’s new “aggressive testing program.”
“We know that a very big key to attacking this virus is to do as much testing as we could possibly do,” she told reporters inside a drive-through tent. “This will give us great insight as to how much of the virus we have here, and later on whenever we have antibody testing, how much we have had here.”
New Hanover Public Health Preparedness Coordinator Lisa Brown said the program was more ambitious than any other county in the state.
“We wanted to not just grab a snapshot in time of one particular test day or a couple of days, but to have the availability of testing go on for several weeks,” Brown said.
She said the goal of testing 1% of the county’s population would help the county find out if there are considerably more cases in the county than now known. (As of Tuesday afternoon, there had been only 79 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the county — 54% female and 35% aged 25-49 — including three deaths.)
“When we’re saying what our case count is daily, we know that is only lab-confirmed cases and likely missing some cases … [Expanded testing] will help us understand if we have more cases out there than we thought we did.”
Just how many missing cases will be answered, in part, over the next four weeks that the testing program will be available to the public.
Last fall, county health officials were at the same parking lot discussing plans for screening residents and giving vaccinations for the seasonal flu. Little did they know what was approaching in the spring.
“When we were all here in October, I don’t think we could’ve imagined that we would be ripping up that plan so quickly and adapting it for [this] purpose,” she said.
The testing site is available for those experiencing symptoms of Covid-19. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added six new symptoms to its list of possible signs of the coronavirus: chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and recent loss of taste or smell.
Previously, the CDC only listed fever, cough, and shortness of breath as symptoms of the virus.
How to get tested
For those experiencing symptoms in New Hanover County, the roughly 15-to-20-minute testing process will look like this:
- If symptomatic, call the county’s Coronavirus Call Center at (910) 798-6900. A public health nurse will ask what symptoms you are experiencing and when they began; you will receive a reference number and an appointment time to come to the testing site. (According to Kusek, the county will provide transportation for those who need it.)
- Approach the parking lot from the east side on Hanover Street, whether in a vehicle or on foot, where you will be pre-screened at a tent on Hanover and 2nd Street and asked for your reference number. Here, you will be given instructions on how to drive through or walk through the lot.
- For those who have been pre-screened and are in a vehicle, you will drive through a tent, park, and a public health nurse will administer a nasal swab. Before departing you will be given information on when to expect lab results as well as guidelines to manage respiratory symptoms at home, including staying at home seven days after your symptoms began, when you’ve had no fever for three days without any medicine for fever, and when your symptoms have improved.
- For those who have been pre-screened and are walking, you will be directed to another tent where you will receive a nasal swab.
- Although the county encourages residents to call the hot line if experiencing symptoms, the testing site will also have a tent for those who have not done so, or have questions for public health nurses. If they qualify, they will receive instructions on where to get tested in the parking lot.
The county will begin posting testing results on its website beginning Thursday, April 30, due to the expected 24-to-48-hour lab turnaround time. The nasal swab samples will be sent to a HealthTrackRx lab. The company is headquartered in Denton, Texas.
Interpreters will also be available for residents on-site and at the call center.
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