Detroit announces drive-thru COVID-19 testing site

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan and health care systems announced Wednesday a  drive-thru testing site in response to the increase of coronavirus cases in the city.

Testing begins Friday at Joe Dumars Field House at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds. The site will be able to conduct 400 tests a day through May 8. Residents can make appointments starting Wednesday and must have a doctor's prescription to be tested.

Public Safety Health director Dr. Robert Dunne and the CEOs of Henry Ford Health System, Detroit Medical Center and Trinity Health joined Duggan in a news conference at Detroit Police Headquarters to explain their partnership to conduct testing over the next month.

The program is funded with $300,000 from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan.

Tents are assembled next to the Fieldhouse at the old Michigan State Fairgrounds, in Detroit March 25, 2020. A coalition of local hospitals, counties, and the city of Detroit are creating a testing center for the coronavirus at the fairgrounds.

Duggan said a city team traveled to New Jersey and made a deal with a laboratory to test 500 samples from the city's drive-thru testing. Roberto Romero, chief of perinatology research for the National Institutes of Health, has been creating 6,000 test kits; staff are coming from partnering healthcare systems.

A call center has been set up by Dan Gilbert through Quicken Loans and Rock Connections at (313) 230-0505 to schedule drive-thru appointments, which are expected to take an hour. Residents will not be able to drive up at random. Doctors can issue prescriptions by email or phone into the call center, Duggan said.

Appointments can be made from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The city anticipates testing 40-50 cars an hour without backing up traffic or long lines.

Through the partnership with the DMC, Henry Ford Health System, Saint Joseph Mercy Health and Trinity Health, and Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, samples will be taken by the health care systems and kits will be flown twice a day to New Jersey, Duggan said.

"No one group could do it (alone,)" Duggan said. "We know we should be testing 4,000 a day. We want to prove we can do 400 and then, as we succeed in the lab capacity, hopefully, start to get some help from the federal government (so) that we will steadily grow this."

Duggan said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel will coordinate efforts with their respective county health directors, and as the Detroit lab expands, Duggan expects the three counties will open their own testing sites.

"We will all work together. That's how we get to the kind of testing that we're ultimately going to need to get to beat this," Duggan said.

As of Wednesday morning, Detroit's health department has recorded 598 cases and 13 deaths in the city from COVID-19, an increase from 551 confirmed cases and eight deaths as of Tuesday, health officials said.

Among the deaths are a Detroit police civilian dispatcher, homicide Capt. Jonathan Parnell, 50, and entrepreneur Marlowe Stoudamire, 43. 

The drive-thru operation was announced after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a state-wide a "stay home, stay safe" Monday, when the city had 400 reported confirmations.

As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, the state has 2,295 total cases and 43 total deaths, an increase from 24 total deaths Tuesday, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Duggan said first responders and police officers will be given priority testing at healthcare facilities and are preparing sites that can handle a surge of hospitalizations.

"Could we someday see the TCF Center, or the Piston's practice facility or Marygrove (College) dorms turned into hospital bed center, those are all things the governor is appropriately exploring not just in Detroit, but around the state."

Henry Ford Health System has 591 patients across hospitals in Metro Detroit and Central Michigan with 107 patients awaiting 24-hour results. Officials said Henry Ford is also preparing for "a mass-casualty event."

Wright L. Lassiter III, president and CEO of the Henry Ford system, said they are experiencing a backlog, especially at their Detroit main campus, and as a Level I trauma center, it has had the largest surge of COVID-19 patients.

"We're trying to ensure that our staff are safe with personal protective equipment and that we are acquiring supplies to manage the increased demand," Lassiter said. "We're creating surge capacity, as our colleagues are. So far, we’ve converted two floors of one of our clinic buildings (and) a floor at the Fairlane Medical Center to an inpatient unit for COVID patients. We've postponed all of our elective and non-time sensitive procedures, and we've converted a half-dozen operating rooms at our Macomb facility."

Duggan also responded Wednesday to White House statements this week that could see lessening of restrictions to social distancing by Easter. 

"Four people connected to me have died in the last 48-hours," Duggan said. "We haven’t hit the peak in Michigan, and the idea that you would just go on with life, survival-of-the-fittest style, to me, is not what this country is about.

"I think the governor is doing the right thing and I can’t say this enough," he said. "People that are ignoring this and are coming together in crowds, you are going to cause the death of members of this community. This virus cannot spread if we don't come together close. It will die off by itself (but) it is the people in crowds that are perpetuating it. And it's inconceivable to me, that we’d make the decision to go about our lives."

Other testing operations

Testing for healthcare workers and first responders are being offered in partnership with Wayne State's University Physicians Group, Wayne State University Health Sciences and Dearborn-based ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services).

The drive-thru testing for first responders and health care workers was vital to implement said Maha Freij, executive director of ACCESS, to "increase accessibility to testing and lessening the overwhelming demands on our regional hospital systems."

Since Friday, the program has tested 865 health care workers and first responders, officials said. Starting Wednesday, drive-thru testing will be offered 1-6 p.m. five days a week at the following: 

•Monday, Wednesday, Friday: WSUPG headquarters, 400 Mack Ave. in Detroit.

•Tuesday and Thursday: ACCESS Community Health and Research Center, 6450 Maple St. in Dearborn

In addition to the testing, the center also provides dinners at sites in Dearborn and Detroit to supplement breakfast and lunch services being provided by school districts. They also have certified Arabic translators for community members.

“Our front-line health care workforce is one of our most precious assets in the fight against COVID-19,” said Charles Shanley, president and CEO of University Physicians Group, in an online statement. “We cannot protect the public without protecting them, as well as the first responders who provide critical support to our health care system, and protect public safety.”

Twitter: @SarahRahal_