PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Health Services has lifted most restrictions on whom can get tested for coronavirus, and medical facilities are preparing for administering more tests.
Public health officials have said widespread testing is a key to getting a better understanding about the number of people infected with coronavirus, which helps determine when social distancing restrictions can be lifted.
Maready Medical, an internal medicine practice in east Mesa, has been doing drive-up testing for several weeks. They've seen patients, from as far away as Sun City and Tucson, who had trouble finding other providers willing to give the test.
"The people are concerned," said Dr. Doug Maready. "They’re taking the right precautions, and they’re asking the right questions."
After weeks of shortages, more COVID-19 test kits are now available, so the Arizona Department of Health Services ended most restrictions on whom can be tested Wednesday. Dr. Cara Christ, ADHS director, wrote a standing medical order saying anyone who suspects exposure, regardless of symptoms, is approved for a test. The patients must be willing to stay in isolation until the results are received.
The new rules allowed the Maready Medical team to test more than 70 people from an east Valley nursing home Thursday, and one worker's sample came back positive.
"[She] did not know that she had the disease, and could’ve potentially been spreading it," said Maready business manager Sonny Hastings. "So now she knows, and she can go home and quarantine and reduce the risk for those who are still in the facility."
Banner Health plans to expand from four to five drive-through coronavirus testing sites next week. Starting Monday, a spokeswoman said Banner would have the capacity to collect 12,000 samples per week. Patients still must schedule an appointment for the drive-through testing by calling 1-844-549-1851.
Walgreens Pharmacy also has a drive-through site in El Mirage, and people desiring testing there can schedule an appointent though Walgreens' website.
Arizona-based medical lab Sonora Quest has tripled its capacity to process coronavirus samples in the last few weeks. Their technicians can process 4,200 samples a day, with 29-hour turnaround times.
"We're very passionate," said Sonora Quest Scientific Medical Director Brian Koeneman. "We got into this field for a reason, and this is exactly why we did, to be able to serve our communities."
As of Friday, Sonora Quest is also offering coronavirus antibody blood tests for people who may have contracted COVID-19 and were either asymptomatic or recovered from their illness. Those tests can be obtained through a doctor. Select Sonora Quest stand-alone facilities will collect samples with a doctor's order and an appointment. They can't be obtained through coronavirus drive-through testing facilities.