East Region Mobile Van Brings Testing to the People

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In the two weeks since Hartford HealthCare’s East Region mobile testing van has been on the road providing coronavirus testing to the public, more than 600 swabs have been taken. Of those, about 15 results came back positive.

The van, which can be found at Windham Hospital four mornings a week, in Plainfield two afternoons a week, and then at various sites around New London and Windham counties one day a week, is bringing corona testing to populations that might otherwise struggle to get tested.

“The response from the community has been tremendous,” says Lisa Hageman, regional director of Preventive Medicine and Community Health. “We are seeing a lot of gratitude for bringing testing to where there has not been a lot of it available.”

The process associated with the van is quick and easy. A person can either register online in advance, or simply walk up that day. In Norwich on June 10, the van was parked at St. Vincent de Paul Place on Cliff Street, an organization that provides a soup kitchen and food pantry to the community. About 50 people had pre-registered through St. Vincent de Paul, and another 50 were walk-ins.

Inside the van are HHC registration personnel and a healthcare provider. On this day, the provider was a pharmacy resident, and his job is to write the test orders for the walk-up patients.

From start to finish the process takes only a few minutes. Each swab team is made up of two people — the swabber and the assistant. The best news in corona testing right now is that the testing is now done in the anterior nasal area inside the nose (right inside the nostrils). Each nostril is swabbed for 15 seconds. It’s a much less invasive test. Each sample is placed in a cooler, and the lab team comes by hourly to pick up the tests at the mobile site and bring them for processing.

Each person is given an information sheet and told they will be called only if their test is positive. Additionally, Hageman provides face masks donated to HHC by community sewers to individuals who either don’t have a face covering or have an inferior one.

One such recipient of a pretty new floral mask was Sarah Welch of Baltic. She came to get tested because she had recently returned from a month in Florida visiting family, and was returning to her job at Dunkin’ Donuts in Preston.

“In Florida, they aren’t doing anything that we are doing up here,” she said. “No social distancing, not sanitizing, not wearing masks, everything is open. So I wanted to make sure that I didn’t bring it back with me. Since I work in food service, I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

Daisy Clay of New London came to the mobile site in Norwich because she works at New London’s Homeless Hospitality Center, and staff was told to get tested. She kept putting it off because she’d heard the swabbing was painful and invasive. This new method, she said, was “beautiful, wonderful.”

Michele Pendleton is an EMT from Griswold who heard about the testing at St. Vincent de Paul through Facebook. “It was much easier than I thought,” she said. Because she works in healthcare, and has a new baby granddaughter with some health issues she wanted to make sure she did not have the virus.

John Wood also heard about the mobile testing from St. Vincent de Paul, where he goes a couple times a week for meals and food. He doesn’t have a car, the 63-year-old noted, so a drive-through clinic wouldn’t work for him (all HHC drive-thru clinics accept walk-ins as well). “Being able to walk here, and it being free, that’s why I came,” he said.

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