SAN JUAN – Fast-food restaurants generally offer self-service for hamburgers, french fries and other tasty fare, but these days there’s another kind of fast-service station in the Puerto Rican capital - and in many other places around the world - that’s completely different: A drive-through center where people can get rapid testing done to detect suspected cases of coronavirus.
You can go to these self-Covid-19 testing stations, very much like a fast-food drive-through, use a cotton swab to provide a mucus and saliva sample and speak with medical personnel through your vehicle window - and then get back the results of your test, although at present that takes about four days.
One such testing station is located in front of a hospital in San Juan.
This week, the capital of the US commonwealth set up a self-service center where coronavirus testing can be done with an eye toward helping limit the spread of the sometimes deadly Covid-19 pneumonia that the virus causes. San Juan thus joins other Latin American capitals in establishing centers of this kind to cut the costs to the state of performing testing to detect people infected with the rampant virus.
It is in the Rio Piedras area of San Juan, at the Dr. Javier J. Anton Health Center, where capital Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, decided to set up the island’s first self-service center, following the examples of other such centers in Germany, Spain, Italy and South Korea, along with Denver, Colorado, and one that will soon be operating in New York state.
To get a test performed, a person who believes - either through detecting symptoms or knowing they have been exposed to a coronavirus carrier - that they may be infected needs to call the telephone number set up by capital authorities to deal with the health emergency.
During the call, the medical team questions the caller about their symptoms.
The mayor told EFE that people will not be deemed candidates for testing unless they can confirm they’ve been with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19 or they have pre-existing conditions like respiratory problems, cancer, HIV or are pregnant.
If the medical personnel conclude that the person should have a test, they give them a control number that they must present when they get to the self-Covid-19 center.
“The medical criterion at all times is that which will lead to you getting service and taking care of your health,” the mayor said.
On the day that the person comes to get tested after reporting coronavirus symptoms - including fever above 101 F (38 C), dry cough, sore throat or nasal secretions - they will have to have those symptoms corroborated.
A uniformed municipal police officer - but outfitted with a medical gown or lab coat, facemask and rubber gloves - will orient the person as to what will happen next.
After that, the person goes through a second checkpoint, where they will deal with police and health personnel.
Then, they will be required to don a white outfit that covers them from head to toe, along with a facemask, purple rubber gloves and shoe protectors to prevent them from infecting anyone else if they have the virus.
The health personnel, as they attend to the sick person, will take their control number and ask them their name to compare it with a list of the day’s scheduled patients and then give them the OK to be taken care of by other medical personnel at the health center.
Then, they have to fill out two reports, one for the local Health Department and the other for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta.
The patient then comes in contact with the medical team that will do the actual coronavirus test, which consists of taking a deep swab sample from both nostrils.
If the person has a fever or some kind of acute symptoms, they will be asked to enter the hospital itself for additional testing.
If necessary, ambulances are available to transport patients to the San Juan Municipal Hospital.
On Tuesday, the Rio Piedras center has 75 people on its list of testees, and on days later this week authorities expect to attend to 100 per day.
“Here there’s no co-pay, no deductible, there’s no referral from your doctor. You can be a US citizen or not, naturalized, not have papers, you’re just a person. Period. They also don’t have to be San Juan residents,” Cruz told EFE.
On Monday, the city received several boxes full of infrared thermometers, which are also used in the testing process.
All the samples taken from prospective patients take four days to be analyzed, the mayor said.
“We’re ready to speak with any mayor who wants to set up this kind of system and tell them what the needed resources are. In times of crisis it’s important to act, it’s not a competition,” she said.
As of Tuesday, in Puerto Rico there were 39 known cases of Covid-19 and two people have died from the disease.