The Intermountain Healthcare mobile COVID-19 testing unit made its way to Orem this week, allowing walk-up tests in sessions on Tuesday and Friday.
The efforts from Intermountain come on the heels of a COVID-19 outbreak that led to the movement of Provo and Orem to orange on the color-coded COVID-19 risk level. This was the reason why the COVID mobile was brought in, to service the community during this time.
Nathan Alexander, the marketing and communications manager overseeing the testing program for Intermountain, said the outbreak in Utah County was the main reason why the company brought the mobile unit into Orem.
“We want to make sure we are providing extra capacity and working with the state and local health departments and community partners to get to populations that either don’t have the availability to go to one of our sites, they are concerned with the costs or something is keeping them from going to a hospital,” Alexander said. “It’s an expedited process, we can test a lot of people and in doing so we can make sure that people understand whether or not they have the disease and take precautions they need to protect family members and loved ones. That knowledge that you are positive is powerful.”
The mobile unit is a converted RV that Intermountain renovated at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Turning it into a mobile COVID-19 testing unit required new training for employees with regards to the possibility of high volume response from the community.
The mobile testing unit started up in Summit and Wasatch counties in response to hotspots in the area, but later toured across the state of Utah to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The unit specializes in testing as many people as possible then turning those tests around as quickly as possible.
Along with the mobile testing unit in Utah County comes some recent changes for Intermountain and its COVID-19 testing. Last week, the company announced it would be changing the type of testing from the usual nasal swab to a saliva sample.
Alexander cited the discomfort and sometimes pain that comes along with the deep nasal swabs as a reason for the change.
“They have just been the standard for so long, but it’s just not a good patient experience,” Alexander said. “Our laboratory team got to work looking for other ways to collect the specimen itself and saliva has been up and coming and underwent a bunch of FDA tests, proving to be accurate. The great part is that while we have changed the collection method, the actual test itself is the exact same. We take the same samples and run it in the exact same way that we would the old swabs. In doing so, we’re hopefully making people less afraid of testing and a little bit more comfortable during the testing process while knowing they are getting the same tests, quality and clinical standards.”
All of the tests that Intermountain conducts have to be FDA approved for medical purposes and have to have a certain percentage of accuracy, normally in the high 90% range.
In moving to the saliva sample, the company also conducted 300 tests of the nasal swab and saliva samples in the same machine, then compared the results before having it approved by the FDA.
The mobile unit will be located at the Orem Community Hospital. It will be parked in the soccer field parking lot from 2-6 p.m. on Friday.
Walk-up tests are going to be available, but Intermountain is asking that people call its hotline at (844) 442-5224 prior to their arrival.
People will park their cars, stand in line socially distanced and wait to receive the saliva test after being screened and qualifying for testing.
“Everybody is welcome,” Alexander said. “Make sure that you get tested if you are worried you might have it so that we know, as a state, how the virus is spreading. It helps us all as a community but also so you know you need to social distance. It’s one of the many tools we have to fight COVID-19, but once you test positive you need to follow all of those guidelines to make sure you don’t pass it on to other people.”
People looking to get tested on Friday should bring their insurance cards with them, but if someone is uninsured, Intermountain is committed to working with them to make sure they receive the test they need at no cost.