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'Drive-thru' CV-19 testing site in Tucson by appointment only, not on demand

Banner Health is launching drive-thru COVID-19 testing for pre-screened patients on Monday at four sites in Arizona, three in Phoenix and one in Tucson.

People who believe they've have symptoms of the disease, or have been exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, can call Banner Health and speak to a clinician to "determine if testing is appropriate," the company said. 

If someone meets the CDC's criteria for testing, they will be given an appointment at one of Banner's four sites. Banner Health did not release the addresses of the sites in Phoenix and Tucson, but instead asked people to call Banner Health and make an appointment.

"Individuals cannot request the test and will only be tested if they meet testing criteria," and the drive-thru sites will not accept walk-ins, a Banner spokesperson said. "Everyone must be phone-screened in advance and scheduled for an appointment."

To meet those criteria, people must have significant symptoms and also have a known contact with someone who has been positively diagnosed with coronavirus.

The line will be staffed from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday. People who think they need the test can call Banner at 1-844-549-1851. 

In recent days, University Medical Center South, formally known as Kino Community Hospital, has been operating its own emergency room COVID screening, checking people for COVID-19 symptoms before they go to the emergency department, but this is not the drive-thru screening that began operating on Monday. 

Patients are asked to remain in their vehicle, and while they're waiting for a nasal swab, they will be given paperwork, including a document confirming that that they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and an agreement that they will be tested and will self-isolate until they receive their test results. 

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After they complete the paperwork, a Banner employee will swab inside their nose to collect a sample. Banner estimates that the process will take 5 to 20 minutes. The sample will be sent to Sonora Quest Laboratories for processing, which takes roughly 3 to 5 days for a result, said a Banner spokesperson. 

Around 91 laboratories are doing testing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said, and capacity has gradually ramped up over the last month. On March 2, testing capacity was around 7,840 tests per day, nationwide including state labs, private companies, and university labs. By March 16, that rose to 36,810 tests per day, according to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank. 

While testing is considered a crucial part of public health response, state-by-state data has been patchy and inconsistent, and a constellation of problems with testing, including bureaucratic delays, a lack of testing kits, and other problems  has meant that the U.S. has drastically lagged behind other countries in testing people for COVID-19, even as the disease began to break out in several major U.S. cities. 

A public health official in Pima County sharply criticized the delays, telling TucsonSentinel.com that U.S. officials have "completely wasted the time that China bought us" in limiting the spread of coronavirus. 

Two people have died from COVID-19 in Arizona, both Maricopa County residents, and single-day fatalities in the United States exceeded 100 for the first time Monday. 

As of Monday morning, state officials reported that 235 patients in Arizona had tested positive for the disease. Sunday that figure was 152. And, another 31 patients live on the Navajo Nation, and are not included in the daily tallies released by the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

In Arizona, the first coronavirus case was confirmed on Jan. 26, and so far at least 521 people have been tested for the disease, however, these figures are certainly lower than the actual number, because some private labs do not report negative results to public health officials. 

Private labs are required to report positive results. 

Nationwide about 244,000 were tested for the disease, including around 33,277 people who tested positive since the beginning of March. This is a far cry from South Korea, which was testing nearly 20,000 people per day as the country wrestled with the outbreak. 

During a congressional hearing on March 12, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the "system" for testing "is not really geared to what we need right now." 

"That is a failing. Let's admit it," Fauci said. 

Banner is one of the nation's largest health care systems, and owns and operates 28 acute-care hospitals, including 19 in Arizona. Of those, three are in Tucson, including University Medical Center and University Medical Center South, as well as the Diamond Children's Medical Center on the University of Arizona campus. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

University Medical Center South began operating a COVID-19 screening area outside of the emergency department. On Monday, Banner Health will begin operating a drive-thru COVID-19 test at one facility in Tucson.