COVID-19 drive-through testing sites prepare for the winter chill

Drive-through testing locations plan for Iowa’s winter season during the pandemic.


Jeff Sigmund

UI Quick Care, University Capitol Center, 201 S Clinton St. Testing entrance as seen on Monday Nov. 30, 2020.

Sabine Martin, News Reporter

One way the state has conducted mass COVID-19 testing is via outdoor drive-through services. As temperatures drop, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and other testing locations are confronted with a new challenge, however — maintaining drive-through testing during the winter season.

UIHC predominantly offers drive-through testing instead of a walk-in. Associate Director of Nursing Debbie Herold said the hospital currently tests about 1,400 patients per day with the drive-through testing option, and just about 100 patients use the walk-in clinic.

Herold said UIHC considered several options for developing a winter plan. The hospital currently uses two insulated construction trailers to keep the staff warm while testing in the cold weather, she said.

“Purchasing the construction trailers, which are insulated with HVAC, allows us to put it outside and maintain winterized testing,” she said. “We looked at possibly putting up a military-style drive-through tent that can be warm. So, we looked at a lot of different options, but we just went with the trailer option.”

To stay warm outside, UIHC staff wear Tyvek suits and use hand warmers. Herold said, the testing team has not decreased the number of COVID-19 tests provided as of yet.

According to a press release from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, the state-run testing program, Test Iowa, relocated several testing sites, including its Linn County location. It is now located at a semi-indoor venue at Windstar Lines, the release said.

RELATED: Where can University of Iowa students get a COVID-19 test?

Director of Strategic Communications at Hy-Vee Dawn Buzynski said nothing has changed for Hy-Vee’s drive-through testing other than its expanded hours.

“There are currently three locations, one in Iowa City and two in Coralville that do the drive-through testing,” Buzynski said. “The only one that has expanded hours is the location by Highway 6 in Coralville, and they have Monday-Saturday testing.”

A patient is tested for COVID-19 at UIHC every minute, Herold said. The two drive-through UIHC testing sites are located on Holiday Road in Coralville and at the Family Medicine Clinic in Pomerantz Family Pavilion.

If the demand goes down for testing, Herold said, testing efficiency will be reduced to two or three patients tested every five minutes, so the staff has more time to warm up inside the construction trailer.

“Now we are currently working on a more formalized winter plan that adds the windchill,” Herold said. “So, if the windchill is under 15 degrees or negative 15 degrees we would move testing inside.”

The biggest challenge for planning ahead during a pandemic is the unknown, Herold said.

“When we started outdoor testing in April, we did have a few severe weather situations,” she said. “It snowed and many people don’t remember, but we vividly remember that.”

Harold’s biggest concern for the winter season is staff burnout, from nonstop work since the start of the pandemic in March. She said that, although there is no solid plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, drive-through administration of the vaccine could be a possibility.

“It could be that we’re looking at a whole new location, too,” she said. “I don’t think that has been finalized yet and I think we’ll learn more as the vaccine does become available.”