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Drive-thru testing site opens at Jones Beach; ProHEALTH to start Wednesday

Guards with masks stop cars at the entrance

Guards with masks stop cars at the entrance of Jones Beach as people drive in for coronavirus testing. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island’s first coronavirus drive-thru testing site opened Tuesday at Jones Beach, marking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo‘s latest move to contain an epidemic that is creating havoc across the region and around the world.

A steady stream of people in cars pulled up to the site Tuesday afternoon and were waved into an area with three large white tents as state troopers stood by.

The site will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., by appointment only, though no doctor referral is needed. Cuomo said Tuesday that another site will open in Suffolk County, at Stony Brook University. That site was being set up Tuesday.

Other drive-thru sites opened Tuesday on Staten Island and in Rockland County. And ProHEALTH will open two sites Wednesday.

State officials could not immediately say how many people used the Jones Beach site on the first day. But the arrival of cars was constant and appeared to reach beyond 100.

Some of the people in cars wore face masks. Some vehicles had as many as four people, some of them children.

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As they approached the site, a portable electronic sign on the roadside alternated flashing three different messages: “Covid-19 Sample Area. Present ID. Keep Windows Closed.”

In New Rochelle, where a similar site was recently set up, on Sunday 1,882 people showed up, state officials said. There have been more than 1,800 people using that drive-thru each of the first four days.

Authorities believe that as more testing is done, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases will rise sharply.

In Nassau County, the tents were set up in the parking lot of the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center across the road from the New York State Park Police headquarters. State Police and their vehicles with red lights flashing stood guard.

At an entrance booth, workers wearing masks greeted people, asking if they had an appointment. Some were waved through and sent to the testing area.

Others were handed a piece of paper with a phone number to call to make an appointment. They then made a U-turn and left the area.

At another entrance immediately in front of the tents, a National Guardsman wearing green fatigues, a mask and blue rubber gloves waved drivers into the testing area.

Unlike in New Rochelle, people will not need a referral from a doctor to get tested at the Jones Beach location, officials said. The number to call for an appointment is 888-364-3065.

When people call in, they will be prioritized for testing based on factors such as age, health condition, and other risk factors, Cuomo’s office said.

In Suffolk County, a Stony Brook spokeswoman confirmed that they were hosting a mobile testing lab, but said all additional questions needed to be directed to Cuomo’s office.

On Wednesday, Lake Success-based ProHEALTH, which operates 30 urgent care centers along with a network of primary care offices in the New York region, will start drive-thru COVID-19 testing in the parking lots of its locations in Jericho and Little Neck, Queens.

The tests are available to ProHEALTH’s primary care patients, said Dr. Dan Griffin, the group’s chief of infectious disease. 

ProHEALTH has been performing drive-thru tests at its facility in Secaucus, New Jersey.

Those who drive down without an appointment will be turned away.

Before visiting, those who wish to be tested will be asked to call a hotline number published on ProHEALTH’s website, (516) 874-0411. On that call, primary care patients will be evaluated, and, perhaps, sent to the drive-thru. They also could be instructed to visit an office or stay home, Griffin said.

“We will ask a series of questions, and then make an appropriate decision for that patient,” Griffin said.

“At the drive-thru, a physician will do a quick assessment,” he said. 

Griffin said ProHEALTH won’t test everyone, because there is a limit to how many test results labs can turn around each day, and “the more tests we do, the longer delays there are.”

He said it’s important to prioritize people who are more at risk. The CDC defines at risk as older people and those with serious chronic medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease and diabetes. 

“If we have a 22-year-old patient who has a slight fever and has a known COVID contact, we may not prioritize them over a 74-year-old who finds out that their bridge partner is COVID positive,” Griffin said. 

With Robert Brodsky and Michael Gormley

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