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L+M sets up outdoor area to take samples for coronavirus testing

New London — Lawrence + Memorial Hospital officials secured state Department of Public Health approval Monday for an outdoor specimen-collection station that will help facilitate testing for the coronavirus.

The site will begin operating Tuesday, according to Dr. Oliver Mayorga, L+M’s chief medical officer, who said demand for the testing is high.

Hospital staff finished setting up the station Monday in a parking lot near the hospital’s main entrance. The site, an open-air area sheltered by a tent, will accommodate patients who drive beneath the tent, step out of their vehicle, and sit in a chair in a protected area as a nurse takes nasal and oral swabs. Patients then return to their vehicles and drive off.

Mayorga said it may be possible in some cases for patients to remain in their vehicles during the procedure, which involves deep swabs of one nostril and the back of the throat.

“We’ll try it both ways,” Mayora said.

The swabbing takes less than five minutes, most of which are involved in instructing the patient, he said.

The testing must be ordered by a doctor, who sends the order to a central number in the Yale New Haven Health system. The patient is then contacted to schedule an appointment for the swabbing. The station is expected to operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and have limited hours on the weekend. 

Mayorga said the hospital has been getting calls from “all over the area” from doctors and patients inquiring about coronavirus testing. He said he didn’t know how many swabbings the L+M site could collect but that he expected to quickly “ramp up” capacity.

Yale New Haven Health is also opening swabbing stations at its hospitals in Bridgeport and New Haven and expects to open one at Westerly Hospital, Mayorga said.

Samples collected at L+M will be sent for testing at one of several Quest laboratories, with results known within four days, he said.

“It’s an example of our preparedness,” Ron Kersey, L+M’s emergency management coordinator, said. “We’re assessing the community’s needs and perfecting our processes every hour.”

Kersey said the hospital has a “surge plan” in the event it has to admit a large number of patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. “We have a number of negative-pressure isolation rooms and if we need to devote an entire wing, we can do that,” he said.

L+M, a 280-bed hospital, has 20 beds in its intensive care unit.

“This outside testing will give us a better idea of what’s happening in the community,” Dr. Kevin Torres, the hospital's associate chief medical officer, said. “When you find people who have the disease and get them to stay home, you limit the spread."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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