CLAREMONT — As the state of New Hampshire intensifies its effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, the changes taking place across communities are becoming increasingly visible, whether looking at schools, downtown restaurants or municipal services.
The precautionary changes being practiced by health care providers is no exception.
Behind the building of Keady Family Practice in Claremont is one of the area’s first COVID-19 drive-thru test sites. A mobile medical unit is parked alongside the building, near a pair of parking lanes. A patient showing symptoms associated with COVID-19 may park in a vacant lane and submit a test sample without having to leave the vehicle.
But the purpose of this drive-thru is ultimately about protecting people, not luxury, said Daniel Keady, operations manager at Keady Family Practice.
“This allows us to test our community in the safest possible manner,” Keady said.
Outside testing stations are currently being recommended nationwide by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infection to medical staff and patients
One of the biggest fears about the pandemic is the infection of a healthcare professional, Keady explained. If medical staff have to go into quarantine, whether from illness or precaution, there could be a serious strain on health services during a critical time.
The Keady clinic is also screening patients outside the front entrance to protect against a patient infected by COVID-19 from entering the waiting area.
“It’s for the safety of the patients as well as staff,” Keady said. “This virus affects the elderly dramatically, and we have a large elderly population. We need to do anything we can to prevent the spread of the illness into our building.”
Ana, a medical assistant, stands outside the buildings wearing scrubs and holding a clipboard of questions. She said that if a patient is displaying symptoms linked to the virus and answers yes to one of the questions — such as if one recently travelled domestically or participated in a large group activity — the patient would be recommended to take the test at the outside station.
If a patient answers no to the questions but has a symptom like a cough, the patient may go inside but is asked to wear a protective mask.
Patients who wish to be tested must have symptoms, which is a requirement by the CDC to test patients, Keady said.
The patient remains in the car throughout the administering of the test. A Keady medical assistant goes to the car, wearing full-protective gear: nose and mouth mask, protective eyewear and face guard, latex gloves and protective clothing. The assistant gives the patient a mask in case there’s a risk of coughing or sneezing and the assistant communicates with the patient by cellphone.
If someone doesn’t have a cellphone, the clinic keeps a walkie-talkie, sealed in a biohazard bag, for backup, Keady said.
Collected test samples are sent to either an independent lab like Quest Diagnostics or the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services for analysis. The results can take between 24 to 72 hours to return.
Monday was the drive-thru site’s first day of operation. Keady estimated between five to seven patients were served.
After Gov. Chris Sununu announced a state of emergency on Friday, the Keady staff worked without rest over the weekend to be prepared, including completing a full inventory of vital medical supplies, including items like hand sanitizer that have been in limited supply due to mass-purchasing by the public.
“We’re good on supplies,” Keady said. “But we all have to be cognizant [about leaving enough supplies for everyone], because there is a national shortage.”
Keady said that many items needed by area hospitals are currently on back-order because of the escalated consumer demand for sanitary items.
For more information about either the coronavirus testing service or scheduling a regular appointment, call the clinic at (603) 863-7777 or visit their website at kfpmed.com. Keady is a family-owned walk-in clinic with hours of operation Monday through Saturday.