Car-based COVID-19 testing in Santa Barbara: How it works

Florida National Guard Spc. Carlton Douge, with the Florida Medical Detachment, prepares to retrieve a sample from a patient at a COVID-19 testing site, March 19, 2020. Photo credit: The National Guard (CC BY 2.0).

Several clinics in Santa Barbara have begun testing patients for COVID-19 from their cars, but only certain people qualify.

“We're doing appointment-based testing,” says Kurt Ransohoff, the CEO of Sansum Clinic, a nonprofit outpatient clinic. To schedule an appointment, patients must be referred by their doctors as high priority, which includes elderly people, those with underlying health conditions, and first responders exhibiting symptoms.

“They drive up with the windows closed,” says Ransohoff. “We hold a sign up [with a] cell phone number and somebody registers them. Then they crack the window, we give them a mask, they do the test and drive away. So the only person that they've come into contact with is somebody who's gloved, masked, gowned and goggled.”

Those who come without an appointment are turned away.

“It's awkward and difficult,” he says. “Some people sit there. Most people drive away. Some people are very upset.”

The waiting period for results lasts roughly four to six days, in spite of local centers now processing tests.

COVID-19 testing may never be available to everyone, says Ransohoff.

“You need enough goggles and gowns and gloves and masks to be able to do it,” he says. “Then you need enough viral transport media to be able to collect the samples. Then it needs to go to a lab that has the capacity to get a rapid, relatively functional turnaround. And in each of those steps, there are still problems.”

For those who test positive but don’t require hospitalization, he recommends quarantining at home for at least 14 days.