COVID-19 Mobile Testing Site Arrives in Charlotte

Julie H. Case

For its first stateside medical mission, Team Rubicon helps develop a novel mobile testing site for beating a novel coronavirus.

Pull down the road alongside Charlotte, NC’s Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center and it’s a handful of volunteers, garbed in gowns and gloves and masks who will greet you. From the other side of a car window, that is.

This is the all-new drop-in COVID-19 testing center at Atrium Health, created in partnership with veteran-founded disaster relief organization Team Rubicon. The setup for this mobile testing site is unique: not only is it entirely out of doors, but it also features telemedicine as a means of reducing exposure and helping keep people safe.

Pre-screening at the coronavirus mobile testing site.

When a person pulls up to be tested, they are first directed to register by phone without leaving their car. Then, they roll into the testing lane for evaluation. After an EMT takes the patient’s vital signs and relays their notes on, a doctor talks to the patient in the car—via video chat.

Those determined to be at high risk of infection or who exhibiting symptoms will be tested. And when they are nurse Peter Varney leans in, swabs both nostrils, seals the kit and sends it off for testing. From arrival to swab and release, it’s roughly a 30-minute trip for most people.

The mobile testing site was designed to improve the coronavirus testing process for residents of North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County, and to reduce the risk of patients with flu-like symptoms cross-infecting visitors to the emergency room.

“Atrium Health initiated their mobile testing site in order to expedite assessments of potential COVID-19 patients, and minimize their exposure to the acute care facilities like emergency departments,” said David W. Callaway, MD, chief of Operational and Disaster Medicine at Carolinas Medical Center–Main. “The goal is to test people rapidly, minimize the potential that they could contaminate or affect other patients, reduce strain on the emergency department.

Team Rubicon and Atrium teamed up early in order to be fully integrated as the testing program begins to scale. It’s the first medical mission in the continental U.S. for Team Rubicon. The organization has provided medical care in Puerto Rico, and it assisted with the Dengue Fever outbreak last fall in the Marshall Islandsbut now, with the launch of the coronavirus testing services, its medics are also serving stateside.

The coronavirus mobile testing site opened well in advance of what is predicted to be more than 5,000 cases in North Carolina.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the surge. Epidemiologists have forecast coronavirus cases to peak here late April,” said nurse Peter Varney, a Team Rubicon Greyshirt. “We’re setting up the infrastructure now, and we’re plugged in to support when that does hit.”

By end of the second day in operation, the site had already completed a couple of dozen tests. Because Atrium Health is processing the tests in-house, patients typically receive their results in four to 24 hours. And, Atrium is capable of processing as many as 1,000 tests per day.

Team Rubicon will stay on-site with Atrium Health for at least the next two weeks. Then, it expects to replicate the program here, and take the best practices learned on the frontlines of coronavirus testing, to hospitals across the United States.

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