The city has expanded testing capacity across its hospital system, now nearly all 10 hospital testing sites are running and four city-run drive throughs will soon be open by the end of next week. National Health Reporter Erin Billups got an exclusive look inside Bellevue Hospital's newly erected tent. They started seeing patients Thursday.
"With these testing centers, we're probably gonna be able to test greater than a thousand patients per day throughout the system,” said Dr. Andrew Wallach, Chief of Ambulatory Care at NYC Health+Hospitals/Bellevue.
The number of COVID-19 cases in New York has more than quadrupled in just a week, even with limited access to testing. Now with the new assessment and testing centers created at city-run hospitals, that number is expected to climb even higher.
Dr. Wallach is leading the testing expansion. "Testing will help us identify the high risk folks and make sure that they home isolate so that they don't go out and infect others."
Wallach walked us through Bellevue’s center. The tent is located outside the hospital in the garden. Everything about the space is designed to cut down on the spread of the virus.
"Mother Nature is the best air circulator that's out there. And so it actually protects our patients and our staff," said Wallach.
The tents have three stations. Two are outfitted with bespoke Plexiglas booths for health care workers to sit behind.
One is a registration station; everyone who is tested is entered into Health+Hospital’s electronic medical record system, to keep track of testing progress. The second station is meant to assess whether patients actually need to be tested.
“That's staffed by one of our clinicians where they basically ask the patient how they're doing, what their risk factors are with the underlying comorbidities are,” said Wallach. “If they do qualify for a test, the last station, the third station is the nasal swab."
The providers who administer the test on patients wear gowns, gloves, face masks and shields. "The test is then sent to the lab for processing. So it's an assembly line. Boom, boom, boom. And then we get patients out," said Wallach.
He cautions that you can't walk in off the street and be tested. You have to have an appointment. "What we're trying to do is target folks that are higher risk for complications from COVID. And that's who we're testing."
City hospital emergency departments are already inundated. "Several of our hospitals, especially in Queens, have just been overrun by New Yorkers coming in, wanting to be tested. Another value in doing this testing is that we're offloading the volume that is showing up at our emergency departments."
While the hospitals have enough necessary equipment right now- another surge of COVID19 cases is expected over the next two weeks.
Wallach says everyone needs to stay home - to slow the spread.
Which is why on Saturday, the city Department of Health released guidance for doctors asking them not to test asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic people.
“We do not encourage and we actively discourage asymptomatic people from getting tested because it's squandering scarce resources, not only in terms of tests, but also in terms of the personal protective equipment that's required by health care workers when doing these tests, which include masks, gowns, gloves, all of which we will desperately need, as this epidemic continues,” said City Health Commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “We are only at the very beginning, and so it's incumbent on us to protect those valuable resources, and testing asymptomatic people is a waste of time.”
If you are in a high risk group, meaning a senior, have underlying health conditions and are exhibiting symptoms call 1-844-NYC-4NYC for more information on how to get tested.