Drive-thru coronavirus testing center becomes more accessible, PPE gear made available to health care workers

Appointments at the drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in New Braunfels can now be made directly by residents. (Courtesy National Institutes of Health)
Appointments at the drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in New Braunfels can now be made directly by residents. (Courtesy National Institutes of Health)

Appointments at the drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in New Braunfels can now be made directly by residents. (Courtesy National Institutes of Health)

Comal County announced in press release on Thursday, April 23, that residents can call the drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in New Braunfels to arrange screening and testing appointments.

“Anyone who thinks they need a COVID-19 test can call 830-312-7980, and the nurses at that number will help set them up a telemedicine appointment to make sure they meet testing criteria and – if they do – get an order for a test,” said Cheryl Fraser, Comal County’s director of public health, in the press release.

The center—operated by volunteer physicians, the county, the city of New Braunfels and other local agencies—previously required a doctor to set up appointments after screening their patients.

“We want to make sure everyone in our community who needs a test can get one, regardless of whether they have immediate access to a doctor," Fraser said.

Leading up to this announcement, demand had been less than expected at the center and patient testing was clustered on specific days, according to Dr. Judith Thompson, a local surgeon that helps run the center.

A county official said in an email that roughly 70 of the 653 tests in the county were performed at the drive-thru center.

Comal County also announced in the press release that it had received a large delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

The shipment includes 8,000 masks, 2,000 face shields and 2,000 nitrile gloves. Physicians may call 830-221-1150 to arrange a pickup of supplies.

“Stopping the spread of coronavirus requires doctors and nurses who can safely do their job, and this is a big step toward making sure they can continue to do so.” said Jeff Kelley, Comal County’s emergency management coordinator, in the press release.

The county's intent is to distribute the supplies to primary care physicians who conduct testing or treatment for the coronavirus in Bulverde, Garden Ridge, Spring Branch and unincorporated areas, according to the county's press release.

“This is a great opportunity for local doctors who might be short on equipment to restock their supplies so they can continue doing heroic work caring for their patients,” Kelley said.

----- Updated: 5:20 p.m., April 10

On Friday, April 10, the city of New Braunfels provided more information on the drive-thru COVID-19 testing center, which was established last week and began formal operations on Monday, April 6.

The center has been a collaborative effort between the city, Comal County, New Braunfels Utilities, the McKenna Foundation, Comal ISD and New Braunfels ISD.

“The city’s strong relationship with these and many other organizations is demonstrated through this project and ensures we can provide the highest quality service to keep New Braunfels safe,” said Mayor Barron Casteel in a press release.

Clinical Pathology Laboratories is providing the center with testing kits and is returning results within 24 hours, according to Dr. Judith Thompson, an administrator of the center. So far, the center has performed 34 tests.

While the lab was originally set to be open five days a week, Thompson said demand is able to be met by grouping patients together on certain days. She said service will be expanded as more testing orders come through.

Patients must have a doctor’s order and a physician must schedule an appointment with the drive-thru testing center. The Kelly Family Clinic is assisting patients that do not have a primary care physician. The cost of testing for private pay patients is still $70.

“Dr. Dorothy Overman, Dr. Judith Thompson and Dr. Cecily Kelly have been instrumental in establishing the drive-through testing center protocols and providing the training necessary to prepare NBFD personnel to safely collect test samples,” Casteel said.

According to the city, New Braunfels Fire Department personnel are assessing patients and conducting testing swabs because they have protective equipment and training to safely handle the swabs.

NBU established a phone bank for testing questions and nurses from CISD and NBISD are staffing the phone lines.

Comal County provided the location and security for the center, and the county’s Office of Public Health has offered its expertise.

“The most effective response is a cohesive and coordinated strategy across all public organizations to fully utilize the community’s available resources,” Casteel said. “Collaboration between different entities allows for a response to the scale that is necessary to protect our community from a threat like COVID-19.”

The center is seeking private donations and people can make contributions on GoFundMe.

---- Original story

Comal County has partnered with Dr. Judith Thompson and a group of volunteers, partially underwritten by the Comal County Medical Society, to open a drive-thru testing center in New Braunfels that will be available to the public.

In the past, the only options county resident's had were to travel to a private clinic or outside of Comal County to visit a similar facility.

"It's a variety of community members who've all come together—donating their time and resources—to be able to meet the needs of our community," Thompson said in a phone interview. "They've all been wonderful. Everybody has just scrambled and done everything they can to pull this together very quickly."

Thompson said there is a defined process for people that want to be tested at the center. For safety reasons, patients will not be served unless a doctor or licensed practitioner has arranged an appointment ahead of time.

First responders and health care workers will initially be prioritized.

"We're just starting with those people so that we can work out the kinks in our process—this is for the community," Thompson said. "This is for everybody."

The center is operational, but the formal start date is April 6. For patients without a personal doctor, the Kelly Family Clinic can assist patients in setting up an appointment.

Patients must meet the criteria issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The criteria states that patients must have done a combination of the following: present a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, have come into close contact with a person with a confirmed case of the virus within 14 days of symptom onset, have a travel history to areas of outbreak, or have risk factors that put them at a higher risk of severe illness.

Once an appointment has been arranged, the patient will be contacted about when and where to go and what they need to bring.

Upon arrival, people should leave their car windows up and turn off their engines, air conditioning and radio to reduce the risk of viral transmission from air disruptions.

If the patient is not the driver, they should sit behind the driver. People who are not being tested or driving should not tag along, and pets should stay home, Thompson said.

Test results are sent to a commercial lab and are expected to be returned in one to three days. Most insurance companies have waived testing fees, and the private pay cost is $70.

According to Thompson, at this time the limiting factor at all testing centers, including this one, is the availability of testing kits for COVID-19. Personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, is also in short supply.

"[The center] has a very fluid process, which is changing daily," Thompson said. "We're going to do as many test as we can based upon the resources that we have available."

Thompson is requesting information on available testing kits, PPE and simple office supplies, which can be shared by calling Thompson's office at 830-624-7993.

Comal County has provided some storage and equipment that is unique to the Office of Public Health, according to a county official, and has also provided the location and security for the center, the location of which will not be disclosed except to patients with appointments.

The Comal County Medical Society is accepting donations from people that want to support the center.
By Warren Brown
Warren joined Community Impact at the beginning of 2020 as the editor of its New Braunfels paper and now reports the news in San Marcos, Buda and Kyle. Warren previously wrote for the Dallas Observer and Fort Worth Weekly and he brings a passion for truth and equality to his reporting.


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