Testing for COVID-19 expands with local drive thru locations and added commercial lab

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo  series and our ongoing COVID-19 coverage. If you have a story of how the community is responding to the pandemic please let us know here.

UPDATED 4.14.2020 

Drive-thru testing for COVID-19 soon will be available in Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, and Kalamazoo. 

They are three of 13 new or expanded COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites that are intended to provide greater access to testing for residents across Michigan. A new lab will speed up test results under a plan announced recently by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The drive-thru test locations are opening on a rolling basis. Tests began in some locations across the state Saturday, April 11 and continue to open through this week. Southwest Michigan test sites are:
• Battle Creek: Grace Health, 181 W. Emmett St., 269-441-3463
• Benton Harbor: InterCare Community Health Network, 800 M-139, 855-869-6900.
•Kalamazoo: Family Health Center, 117 W Paterson St., 269-488-0804.

Family Health Center will host its first drive-thru testing on Friday, April 17, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., at Stones Church, 1225 W. Paterson Street, in Kalamazoo. Depending on the demand, future testing may happen elsewhere in Kalamazoo County in the coming weeks.

Those who wish to be tested must call (269) 488-0804 for a pre-test evaluation, including a phone consultation with a physician to get a doctor’s order for the test. You can also call the number during normal business hours with questions about the testing.

“Family Health Center is committed to quality health care for every person. In the face of this global pandemic, that mission is more important than ever,” says Denise Crawford, President & CEO. “We’re honored that Gov. Whitmer chose FHC to play this vital role in addressing a critical health need.”

Individuals will be tested for COVID-19 without leaving their vehicles, Crawford says. Those being tested will need to bring their driver’s license or personal identification. Family Health Center staff in personal protection gear will be onsite to guide individuals through the process. It takes between 10 and 14 minutes to go through testing, and Family Health Center will contact individuals with results in 24 to 48 hours.

Efforts announced Monday, April 13 will increase Michigan’s daily COVID-19 testing capacity by about 40 percent when fully operational. Those efforts include: Nine new drive-through testing locations and expansion of three existing centers where residents can be tested for COVID-19 without leaving their vehicles, plus additional testing at a location yet-to-be-determined in Detroit. And the use of a new commercial laboratory in Grand Rapids that can run upwards of 3,000 tests per day.

The announcement of new efforts came the day before the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reported a reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases are being reported. An MDHHS statement indicated that although a reduced number of COVID-19 cases are being reported April 12, 645 cases compared to 1,210 reported on April 11, and deaths, 95 compared to 111 on April 11, the department could not say if this represents a true decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths in Michigan. "Reported case counts may reflect a reduction in the amount of laboratory testing performed over the weekend and holiday. Single-day fluctuations in the number of confirmed cases may not be significant, as a number of external factors can affect data reporting," the MDHHS report stated.

On April 13 there were 83 positive COVID-19 cases and two deaths in Calhoun County and 90 confirmed cases and seven deaths in Kalamazoo County. The most recent death in Kalamazoo County was individual who older than age 70 and had underlying medical conditions. All of the Kalamazoo County cases have been among those over 70 years old. 

“The State of Michigan is working with our healthcare partners to step up COVID-19 testing,” Whitmer says. “Better access to testing and quicker results are critical to our public health officials who are fighting coronavirus and to our residents who have symptoms of COVID-19 and need answers, treatment and peace of mind. More testing will save lives.”

New drive-thru sites will each aim to serve 100 or more individuals per day beginning Monday, April 13, with the exception of the Detroit and Flint sites that will begin operations on later dates. Individuals should call before coming to these drive-thru sites for pre-test evaluation and additional information as you must meet Michigan’s coronavirus testing priority criteria to be tested at the sites.

You should first contact the site’s patient screening telephone line or their health care provider if seeking testing. Michigan’s testing priority criteria include those who are: 

• Hospitalized patients.

• Symptomatic healthcare workers.

• Patients in congregate facilities with symptoms, including those at: 
  -- Long-term care or elderly living facilities.
  -- Jails or prisons.
  -- Homeless shelters.
  -- Residential foster care facilities.
  -- Other group living settings.

• Patients age 65 and older with symptoms.

• Patients with underlying conditions with symptoms.

• First responders with symptoms.

• Critical infrastructure workers with symptoms.

“Increased testing is the only way we will know where COVID-19 is in Michigan and will guide our public health response,” says Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive. “Along with social distancing practices such as staying home and keeping 6 feet between yourself and others if you must go out, more testing will help Michigan slow the spread of COVID-19.”

MDHHS will partner with the Michigan Primary Care Association and NxGen Laboratory, a commercial laboratory in Grand Rapids, to operate these testing sites.

Expanded testing is available through a partnership involving the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Primary Care Association, 11 health centers, and NxGen MDX Laboratory.

Read more articles by Kathy Jennings.

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.