ESSEX — As its third day in action came to an end, the pop-up site established to test people for coronavirus was opened to the media for touring and interviews with staff members.

The testing site, located at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, is nothing more than a couple tents, some cones, and two UVM HealthNet Critical Care vehicles--one being an ambulance.

In the onset of the tour, UVM Medical Center (UVMMC) Communications Strategist Annie Mackin wanted to stress to the public that the site will only see and test people with proper referrals. Those are only obtained by a potential patient going through their primary care physician’s (PCP) office--which then contacts UVM’s Urgent Care if a test is warranted.

“We don’t want everyone calling [their PCP] like, ‘Hey, I want to get swabbed; I want to get tested for this,’” said Mike Conti, program manager for the Critical Care Transport team for the UVM Health Network. “We want to reserve it for the people that really are feeling ill. I don’t want a lot of people, kind of, ‘abusing’ the system. We really want this just to be for the ones that really aren’t feeling well and are showing the signs and symptoms.”

Conti said if someone is feeling symptomatic, they should contact their primary care physician and explain what they’re experiencing. If, after triaging the call, the doctor contacts Urgent Care to set up a test, the patient will be given instructions on how to be seen at the pop-up site. Visits to the fairgrounds do not require the patient to exit their vehicle, and Conti says the team’s systems are high-functioning to the point where the visit takes about five minutes.

“The goal of this is just to lessen the burden on the ER and urgent care centers,” he added. “We don’t want all these people going there; it takes two to three hours of time there. We want to go through and get people, that are appropriate for this process, back to the comfort of their home and working on getting better.”

After initially being open to see patients with referrals for four hours during the day, the operation has since expanded to 10 a.m.4 p.m., and Conti says the hope is to be open seven days a week. Twenty-one patients were seen on Monday, and that number jumped up to 55 on Tuesday and 72 on Wednesday. He said they did need to turn away one person on Wednesday who showed up without a referral at the advice of their boss.

Upon arrival, patients are shown pages in a binder by UVMMC staff members — the first instructing them to roll up their windows. After IDs are asked to be placed against the window for primary information to be gathered, the team member will then step back and ask the window to be rolled down to verbally communicate additional details.

After confirming with colleagues in the UVMMC transport vehicle that the visitor has a referral, the patient is asked to pull their vehicle forward into the tented sample-taking space. A deep nasal swab is conducted--the same used for the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)--and the sample is then bagged, labeled, and put into a cooler.

Couriers make pick-ups throughout the day for the samples to be transported to the UVMMC lab so that the information on them can be verified; from there, they go to the state laboratory for thorough testing. While results were first being relayed to patients in a range of 24-48 hours, Conti says that people are notified before they arrive that the results may take over three days now with how much the state’s lab is being inundated.

“Thankful,” he said when asked how he thinks people are feeling about the pop-up site. “Honestly, more than anything, they appreciate what we’re doing here. It’s not an ideal situation that we’re in--across the world right now. So the fact that there is a comfortable way that they come and get tested--that they don’t have to be surrounded by other people, and it’s in the comfort of the car. I think people, overall, are grateful that we’re doing this process and that we are there for them right now.”

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