Doctors and other staffers were among the volunteers who put up three bright yellow tents just outside Newton-Wellesley Hospital Friday night. Similar tents are becoming familiar sites near hospitals across Massachusetts and the country as part of an effort to increase capacity for COVID-19 testing while minimizing the risk of spreading infection.

Newton-Wellesley is not the only hospital looking for alternatives testing approaches. A statement from the Massachusetts Health and Hospitals Association to WGBH News said that: "Almost every Massachusetts hospital is implementing alternative methods for screening patients outside of the [Emergency Department]."

Here's how it works: When a car pulls up, a nurse in protective gear approaches to check in a patient. This test is not for everyone — patients must be pre-screened by their local health department or doctor and registered before they arrive. Resources, including test kits, are in short supply.

“We’re trying to limit testing to really high-risk individuals who would not do as well with COVID or to health care or other infrastructure workers that would be critical to maintaining our communities,” said Dr. Jodi Larson, chief quality officer at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, who is overseeing the safety of testing.

Once a patient is checked in, they’re escorted by a nurse into a tent where the testing gets underway. It’s a simple process: there’s a check of vital signs, and then a nasal swab is taken.

“It’s not comfortable, but it’s not painful — generally makes people sneeze and makes your eyes water, and it’s gotta stay up there for a good 10 seconds, so it’s not very pleasant," said Frances Lloyd, a nurse practitioner."But not the worst thing anybody’s ever done."

Unless a patient needs immediate care, they’re handed a sheet of paper with instructions on how to self-quarantine at home. At Newton-Wellesley, Larson estimated test results will take between 24 to 48 hours, but would be expected to slow as the volume of tests grows.

Using tents for the testing is a way to decrease exposure in the hospital and conserve critical protective gear — like gowns, gloves and masks — for medical staff.

“Doing testing in the unit allows us to use a lower number of protective equipment than we would if we were doing this at stand-alone sites on one-by-one patients,” said Larson.

Anyone who thinks they might be ill should start by calling a doctor or their local public health department.

“We’d rather people stay home and be quarantined and be safe and not risk exposure. And the people who really need to be tested are being screened out over the phone to come in and get their test,” said Lloyd.

Pre-screening also means the tests can be linked to key information already in a database, including whether the patients have been exposed to someone with the virus and where they’ve traveled.

The samples will also be tested for other seasonal illnesses like influenza.

“There’s a lot of other things out there — influenza, the common cold. Probably less than 10 percent of our patients that we test are actually positive for COVID-19,” Dr. Larson said.

While the testing for seasonal illness is done at the hospital, the testing of samples for COVID-19 is done by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The hospital would not share the numbers of people tested so far, but these may be early days to draw conclusions from the data; the pool of those needing testing will certainly expand.

Testing aside, Dr. Larson offered advice to everyone.

“I think it's hard, it's really hard. None of us have lived through this. And so I think people need to not panic. I think you have to recognize, not everybody has COVID,” Larson said, “and we will get back to normal. But it takes, it takes a village for this to go the right way.”