Atop a hill behind Somerville Hospital is what was once one of the facility's parking lots. These days it is dotted with orange cones, making it look more like a driving course. A few pop-up tents and a trailer also give it the appearance of the soon-to-be site of an outdoor event.

You remember outdoor events, right?

But what it is — and has been for about a month now — is Somerville’s free COVID-19 testing site, where any city resident can schedule an appointment by phone — and then drive through, bike through or walk through to get tested for the virus.

The site is populated by a handful of health care professionals who wear clean suits, gloves, masks and face shields. Those who administer the tests also wear respiratory equipment — army-green ventilation hoods over their heads, with small tanks strapped to the back of their waists.

"They call themselves the A-team," said Christian Lanphere, emergency management director for the Cambridge Health Alliance, who has partnered with the city of Somerville to administer the tests. This A-team is a dedicated staff of about a dozen health care professionals from throughout the Cambridge Health Alliance system who trained together for weeks.

"It's nurse practitioners, it's physicians assistants, it's nurses, it's cardiovascular techs," said Lanphere. "They didn't know each other, and they came together and they bonded as one group."

Lanphere said that to the folks at Cambridge Health Alliance, it became clear early on in the pandemic that to slow the virus in the communities they serve, testing would be key.

"And that’s when we approached the board of health and the mayor and said we will come together with the city and test your population at no charge to them," he said.

They found an enthusiastic partner in Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.

"We understood right away to get a true understanding of how the virus is moving and to contain it, we need as much information as possible," said Curtatone. "And that’s why we intend to spread testing beyond those with the most obvious symptoms.”

Curtatone was — and is — worried about what he calls "silent transmission," noting that experts have said we’ve likely only identified about 10 percent of those infected. That would mean that while Somerville currently has about 900 residents who have tested positive, the real number is more like 9,000. And Massachusetts' 90,000-plus confirmed cases could actually be closer to a million.

But to offer testing to all, including the asymptomatic, uninsured and undocumented in his city, Curtatone said they needed supplies.

"We were able to get more supplies really by scavenging," he said. "By hunting it down through private vendors, utilizing the Cambridge Health Alliance."

The state also chipped in with swabs, because Somerville developed a strategic plan to address COVID-19 in its most vulnerable neighborhoods, where Curtatone said the infection rate is proving to be higher than in other parts of the city.

"If you did an overlay of where the subsidized housing units are in the city, public housing, environmental justice zones where our vulnerable populations live — those are the intensified and elevated rates of transmission of the positive cases that we know," he said.

Somerville's strategic plan also includes a contract tracing program, and a range of services available for those who do test positive and members of their households.

"There are people who are fearful," said Curtatone. "There are people who still don’t realize [that] it doesn’t cost me anything. I don’t have health care — that’s ok. I’m undocumented — that’s ok. You can come out and get tested."

"We are still encouraging everyone to go and get tested," said Doug Cress, Somerville’s director of health and human services. "We’re filling up the schedule, which is fantastic, we would like to fill it up a little bit more, as a matter of fact."

Cress said they can test up to about 700 people a day at the Somerville Hospital site. And they’ve tested over 3,000 people in the past few weeks.

"We are not doing an antibody test," he said. "We are simply testing for the virus itself. The style that we’re using are the swabs that go up into the nose."

Cress said he understands the swab test can be a deterrent for some, but he’s more worried about those who aren’t getting tested because they can’t get to the site — or fear getting tested because they are undocumented. To combat that, Somerville recently added a mobile unit to take testing directly to those populations.

Cambridge Health alliance has also expanded testing, adding similar free outdoor testing sites at their facilities in Cambridge and Malden, where residents of Medford, Chelsea, Revere, Winthrop and Everett can be tested free of charge in addition to those who live in Malden.

Christian Lamphere said that by testing at this scale, they are gaining crucial knowledge. For one, he said, many people testing positive appear to have contracted the virus from another household member.

"And there are a number of people who did end up testing positive who would never have met the clinical definition for testing," he explained. "So, we feel very confident that what we’re doing now really is the right thing to do to keep our communities safe."

Cambridge Health Alliance is processing the tests at an in-house lab. Results are communicated by phone two-to-three days after testing.