SGMC drive thru COVID-19 screening

Chris Herbert | Valdosta Daily Times

South Georgia Medical Center employees perform COVID-19 screenings for residents driving through at the Smith Northview location Monday afternoon. SGMC discontinued the drive-through screening later in the week.

VALDOSTA – Residents can get screened for COVID-19 while sitting in their cars.

South Georgia Medical Center announced Monday morning it opened a drive-through screening station for COVID-19 at its Smith Northview location, 4280 North Valdosta Road.

It will open 1-5 p.m. Monday; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays following, according to hospital officials.

Within the first hour of opening, a line of nearly 50 vehicles already assembled to receive screening for the coronavirus.

The drive-through station will provide a free basic assessment of residents' symptoms by a health-care professional while they remain in their car. COVID-19 testing can be accessed during the process if the basic assessment indicates further evaluation and testing are needed, said health officials in a statement.

"There's been a great deal of anxiety in the community as a whole and the public elsewhere about COVID-19," Dr. Brian Dawson, SGMC chief medical officer, said in a press conference Monday. "We wanted to make sure we put a process into place quickly so we can evaluate those patients that may meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing."

He explained more about the process of how screening for the coronavirus can lead to further testing protocols.

"So if someone has a screening that is positive - whether they have an increased respiratory rate, if they have a low pulse oximetry, elevated temperature - we have physicians that are here on staff ... and those physicians will screen these patients to see if they need to have additional testing for COVID-19," he said.

Testing for COVID-19 includes a nasal swab and a respiratory panel which can diagnose various illnesses caused by non-COVID-19 viruses and bacteria. If those swabs test negative, then they are sent to a lab offsite where further evaluation for COVID-19 test will be performed, Dawson explained.

"We do not have have onsite COVID-19 testing as does no other community-based hospital, but we can access (offsite lab testing) quickly," he said.

The drive-through COVID-19 screening includes an "observation of the individuals health presentation," screening questions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, heart rate, body temperature and oxygen saturation levels, according to the SGMC statement.

He said as of 1:55 p.m. Monday that two patients had been screened positively by the drive thru station and were currently undergoing evaluation and testing for COVID-19. Dawson added with the increased screenings and testings, it would statistically lead to more expected diagnoses of the coronavirus. 

The announcement comes after a second patient was announced with a confirmed positive diagnosis of COVID-19 Sunday.

The second patient is a team member of South Georgia Medical Center and was part of care personnel of the first patient, a woman treated at the main hospital from March 5-7 and transferred to a Florida hospital, according to SGMC officials.

When asked about the current status of the woman at the Florida hospital, Dawson said he did not have that information at the time.

The employee received a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 Saturday night through testing as compared to the first patient who received a presumptive positive diagnosis, hospital officials said.

The employee was exposed to the first patient March 6 and noticed initial symptoms on March 11, when they were identified as a "high" risk of exposure and placed under "monitoring guidance at home," SGMC officials said.

This story was updated at 3:10 p.m. after a press conference with SGMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Dawson.

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