South Korea Sets Up Innovative Drive-Through Coronavirus Testing Station

Lab worker sorting vials.
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In South Korea, a drive-through testing station has been set up in an attempt to screen for the coronavirus (COVID-19), reported CNN. The site allows people to stay in their cars as they move through various screening checkpoints.

The drive-through testing site is located in the northern city of Goyang in an open parking lot. Motorists enter the parking lot and make their way from station to station to register themselves, have their temperature taken, and receive swabbing of their throat and nasal passages. Nurses are present at the stations wearing protective plastic suits, masks, and face shields. The screening process is over in a matter of minutes, and both passengers and drivers do not need to leave their car at any point.

The officials behind the drive-through idea believe that the system is safer and faster than having people come in to a clinic or hospital for testing.

The mayor of Goyang, Lee Jae-joon, commented on the drive-through test site.

“There’s less face-to-face contact. If you operate a testing site indoors, there is concern that suspected patients can infect each other in the waiting room.”

The mayor added that the idea came from the model of drive-through restaurants and establishments, such as Starbucks — which has come to South Korea. Health officials were inspired to replicate the coffee chain’s model.

Disinfection professionals wearing protective gear prepare to disinfect against the coronavirus (COVID-19) at a traditional market on February 24, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea.
  Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

A surgeon volunteering at the test site, Lee Eun-sook, echoed the mayor’s sentiment about the drive-through being safer.

“That limits the exposure of frontline workers to the virus and means patients aren’t able to contaminate a public health facility.”

The drive-through site is able to test as many as 384 people in one day. The results are available after three days, and people can receive their status via SMS.

Performing test screenings at an open site instead of in a clinic or hospital has its downsides for those administering the tests. The harsh Korean winter weather has made conditions unpleasant for nurses. Additionally, they aren’t allowed to go to the bathroom or drink water during their five-hour shift. Once the shift has ended, the nurses are showered in hypochlorous acid disinfectant in a small, portable booth.

The Korean health system has been incredibly strained as the number of infected individuals continues to rise. In just two weeks, the number has shot from 31 to more than 4,200, with 26 deaths reported so far. In addition to the latest drive-through test site, South Korea has more than 500 testing sites, which have seen more than 100,000 people pass through.

Health workers only screen those who are thought to be at-risk, determining this through a questionnaire about travel history and current symptoms.