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Drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Las Vegas opens to all comers

Updated May 5, 2020 - 11:21 am

After months of reserving tests for the new coronavirus almost exclusively for the sick, diagnostic testing will be available in Las Vegas to anyone who wants it through a new drive-thru initiative offered by University Medical Center and Clark County.

In a departure from previous criteria, the testing — by appointment on Tuesday and Wednesday on the first floor of The Orleans parking garage — won’t be limited to those with symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Additional days are expected to be added following evaluation of the first two days.

By removing restrictions on who may be tested, the initiative goes beyond new recommendations by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those guidelines, updated Sunday, now urge testing for people without symptoms who are in certain minority groups or who live in group settings.

The agency also recommends testing for individuals without symptoms who are “prioritized by health departments or clinicians” for purposes of public health monitoring.

Testing criteria, which have been “very fluid,” are loosening up further as the capacity for testing increases, Dr. Shadaba Asad, UMC’s medical director of infectious disease, said Monday.

“The earlier restrictions had to do with limited testing capability,” said Asad, a member of the governor’s medical advisory team. UMC currently has no shortages of supplies needed for testing, including swabs, reagents and other materials, she said.

New testing recommendations

When the pandemic got its foothold in the U.S. about two months ago, testing was primarily limited to patients whose symptoms were so severe that they were admitted to the hospital. People with milder symptoms were advised to self-isolate at home and seldom were tested.

In the last few weeks, as testing capacity has expanded, testing has become more widely available to people with milder symptoms. Though it no longer has a waiting list, UNLV Medicine, the medical practice of UNLV’s Medical School, continues to limit testing in its drive-thru program to those with symptoms, though it’s considering loosening its criteria, a spokesman said.

The updated CDC recommendations for who should be tested added people without symptoms from certain racial and ethnic minorities who “when they do develop COVID-19, they tend to have adverse outcomes from the disease,” Asad said.

According to the CDC’s website, these groups currently include “African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, (and) some American Indian tribes.”

The CDC’s recommendations also include people without symptoms who have serious medical conditions, which Asad said includes organ transplant recipients and people receiving chemotherapy, which can compromise the immune system.

Also recommended for testing are people without symptoms who are living in a homeless center or a long-term-care facility.

The rationale behind the expanded recommendations is “the fact that we know that there is a very large proportion of the population that is either minimally symptomatic or completely asymptomatic; these are the drivers of spreading the infection,” Asad said.

The promise of wider testing

The more the community can identify those who are silently transmitting the disease, “the more successful we’re going to be in preventing the spread of disease in our community,” she said. People who test positive can be isolated from other people, and their contacts can be notified.

Last week, Southern Nevada Health District representatives said that health officials would be using “strike forces,” mobile clinics and drive-thru locations to target for testing more susceptible populations, including certain minority groups, individuals 65 and older and residents of skilled nursing facilities.

Expanded testing has been touted as key to reopening states for business. But testing volume in Nevada had remained stagnant for weeks before climbing in recent days.

“This testing will become very important as we move forward,” Asad said. “Once these social distancing measures are lifted, these (infected) people, if they’re not identified, will spread the disease, and we’ll be back to where we were a few weeks ago. Hence this push for very widespread and aggressive testing.”

Asad said the program at The Orleans is just the beginning of the next phase.

People can schedule a drive-thru appointment to be tested at The Orleans via UMC’s website at www.umcsn.com. The site can accommodate 300 appointments Tuesday and again on Wednesday.

Those with appointments are asked to arrive 15 minutes before their scheduled time — not earlier — to avoid causing traffic backups in the area.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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