Last updated Saturday, March 21 at 9:40 a.m.

Sentara will run three drive-thru COVID-19 test centers “for the foreseeable few days” after coming into a supply of tests, some of the health system’s leaders said.

People concerned that they contracted the coronavirus can get a test at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach, Military Circle in Norfolk and Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton.

In Hampton and Norfolk, testing will operate March 21 and 22 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and March 23 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The Virginia Beach location will not be open during the weekend, but will reopen March 23 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Sentara launched the service last week at other locations throughout the region. Supplies lasted for two days before the drive-thrus had to close. The health system will offer the service as they get more testing supplies, which are in short supply across the country.

Paul Gaden, president of the Princess Anne hospital, said last week he doesn’t know how many days they will be able to offer the service. 

There’s a nationwide shortage of COVID-19 tests because the virus is new, but Sentara was able to secure some through its normal supply chain, Gaden said. He was unable to say how many people could be tested with the supply the hospital system received.

It’s unclear if other hospital systems in the region have a similar supply of COVID-19 tests. Bon Secours referred questions about testing to the Virginia Department of Health. Representatives for Chesapeake Regional Medical Center weren’t immediately available for comment.

As of March 21, there were 35 confirmed presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Hampton Roads, where many of Sentara's facilities are located. Two people in the state have died because of the illness. Both were on the Peninsula, where Sentara has a hospital.

Sentara’s drive-thru testing will include three parts: A questionnaire to determine the likelihood a person has COVID-19 (versus the flu or a cold), a general exam and then the oral swab test.

COVID setup people
Photo by Mechelle Hankerson

Staff from Sentara's ambulatory unit set up drive-thru tents to check people for COVID-19. Testing will continue until the hospital system runs out of tests.

This process keeps people out of emergency rooms, which are already busy at this time of year, Gaden said. Princess Anne’s emergency room visits are up 20 percent compared to the same time last year, he said.

“That excess volume that we’re experiencing is really impacting those that really need to be in the (emergency department) for critical services,” he said at a press conference. “This is really just to help offload that volume.”

The increase is a lot of people Gaden described as the “worried well.

“Our ERs are extremely busy, we’re taking care of symptomatic and asymptomatic patients,” he said. “We encourage the 'worried well' to stay home and keep our ERs for those that truly are sick and have those flu-like symptoms."

Health care providers at the drive-thru locations look for people with two of these three symptons: fevers of 100 degrees or more, shortness of breath, or a cough. Medical staff will also take note of patients' contacts with someone who was confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, recent travels and pay special attention to people who have recently gone overseas.

Sentara officials said they have dedicated respiratory units in their facilities for anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, which will limit exposure to other patients and staff. 

WHRO staff reporter Sam Turken contributed to this report.