Two days after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 coronavirus a “global pandemic,” President Donald Trump announced a strategy to tackle the outbreak: by providing drive-by testing at major corporations across the country, including Target, Walmart, Walgreens and CVS.
But don’t rush out to get tested just yet — the companies say they are not quite ready to go.
In a statement, Walgreens told WGBH News the company will dedicate temporary space in parking lots at some stores where non-Walgreens personnel will administer the tests. Those locations haven’t been set up yet, but the company says the times and locations will be announced “at a later date.”
When asked about coronavirus testing via the Walgreens online chat application, one of the company’s pharmacists said they don’t have information about locations just yet, and sent the phone number to contact the Centers for Disease Control.
“These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures, and Walgreens is honored to join the Administration, CMS, CDC and others in our industry to work together in providing access to government COVID-19 testing,” Walgreens president Richard Ashworth said in a statement. “Collaboration with health officials, the government, and across our industry and other sectors is critical at this time.”
Target is also working on securing spaces to conduct tests, according to a statement provided to WGBH from the company’s corporate spokesperson.
“In partnership with Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Google and others, Target is working with the federal government to provide public access to additional coronavirus testing,” the statement reads. “We’re currently working with officials and task force partners to identify real estate that can serve as temporary testing locations, and will share more details as they are available.”
According to medical ethicist Arthur Caplan of the NYU Langone Medical Center, President Trump may have gotten ahead of himself in his remarks on Friday.
“I don't think Donald Trump has been reliable about when things are ready to go,” Caplan said. “He's still telling us that a vaccine is coming in five minutes.”
Caplan said it is complicated to set up blood testing and train personnel. “Obviously you have to collect the samples and teach people how to store them,” Caplan said. “It's blood testing, and that requires a certain kind of quality control, you have to have people who know what they're doing.”
The other potential danger in rushing the process, according to Caplan, is that large crowds and lines pose a health risk and undermine social-distancing efforts.
“You're trying to avoid having big groups assemble, so it really has to be spaced out,” Caplan said. “You don't want people jumping out of cars and talking to each other and, you know, doing exactly what we're not supposed to be doing.”
In a video posted on social media this weekend, Boston resident Julie Cooper says she tried to get tested for coronavirus after exhibiting the symptoms and testing negatively for both strep throat and the flu.
She says she called her primary care doctor, urgent care, and the hospital all told her they weren’t testing for the virus. In a video posted on Tik Tok, Cooper says she was eventually told to contact the CDC, and was told that she wouldn’t be tested as she hadn’t come in contact with anyone who had tested positive for the virus.
“They didn’t even tell me to quarantine,” Cooper said.
According to a spokesperson from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the testing guidances mirror those of the CDC, which has recently updated its website to remove geographical references.
“If you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 or you are a resident in a community where there is ongoing spread of COVID-19 and develop symptoms of COVID-19, call your healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms and your exposure,” the new guidance states. “They will decide whether you need to be tested, but keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home.”
On Friday stateupdated its guidance to health care providers to expand the number of people who would be eligible for testing.
The distinction between those who should go to Walgreens or CVS when a test becomes available, according to Caplan, is whether or not someone is exhibiting symptoms.
“You don't want to expose anybody unnecessarily, so general testing, drive-through testing, that sort of thing, is more for the 'worried well,' for people who just think 'I might have been exposed,'” Caplan said. “But you have to distinguish that from somebody who's got a fever and coughing and really bad symptoms, I don't think they want to hit up the Walgreens.”