Testing sites in Wilmington, Newark, Dover, Millsboro, Frankford and Seaford operated by various hospitals will open Monday to help test people with symptoms of COVID-19— for free.
Patients need a prescription to be tested. Those with a medical provider will need to be evaluated by their provider first, preferably over the phone. Those without a medical provider should call the Delaware Public Health coronavirus call line, or call lines operated by some of the hospitals.
Gov. John Carney said in a statement the coordinated statewide testing system would help reduce the burden on the healthcare system and make testing more accessible.
“Instead of ... having to go to an emergency department and calling ahead to say I’m coming in with COVID-19 symptoms—they have to have all sorts of precautions in place—just to be able to have one location where people with symptoms of coronavirus disease go, I think will make everything more fluid, operate more smoothly," said Department of Health and Social Services Communications Director Jill Fredel.
Fredel said specimens collected at the testing sites will go to either commercial labs or the state public health lab in Smyrna, based on the urgency of the test. For example, tests for people who are hospitalized, in a high-risk group, or are healthcare workers will go to the state's lab, which has a faster turnaround time.
She added the new testing system is expected to increase testing capacity in the First State, but was unable to specify by how much.
“What do these numbers look like?” asked Delaware State University Professor Donna A. Patterson, who teaches about global health and epidemics. “At a certain point will we get saturated? But I guess as they’re rolling this out, these are the things that they’ll have to deal with.”
Patterson sees the testing plan as an improvement. She points to the fact that testing will be free.
"For those who may be underinsured, uninsured or maybe just someone now who potentially has lost their job because their hours were cut and they can't come off that additional co-pay or out-of-pocket cost for the test," she said.
Patterson says perhaps a site in Smyrna or Middletown should be added, but overall sees the placement of the testing sites under the plan as a strength.
"I think this is one of the most comprehensive [testing systems] that I've seen state-wide," she said, mentioning New York and Louisiana as other states she thinks are doing a good job with testing for the virus.
ChristianaCare and Beebe Healthcare each submitted hundreds of samples to commercial labs collected during drive-through swabbing events in Delaware last week.
This story has been updated.