As COVID-19 testing becomes more available to the general public, additional testing sites are being created. However, only a select few of those sites actually enable people to get tested when they are asymptomatic but believe they might have been exposed to the coronavirus in recent days.
The Rite Aid Corporation decided to step up in this time of need, unveiling 46 COVID-19 testing sites, including several on Long Island. The drug store chain is providing free coronavirus self-swab nasal tests, which its pharmacies will then send to a lab for testing. The tests will be conducted in the Rite Aid store’s drive-through window.
The testing sites are located at 3131 Hempstead Tpke. in Levittown, 229 Independence Plaza in Selden and 803 Montauk Highway Unit D in Shirley. There are also multiple locations throughout New York City.
Anton Media Group spoke with Chris Altman, a manager of clinical programs at Rite Aid. Altman discusses everything from the program’s beginnings to how it works, how to sign up and more.
Q: What inspired Rite Aid to implement the testing site program?
A: We, as an organization, have been looking at the state of affairs overall as it relates to COVID-19. We just wanted to be a solution for our customers. We understand that our customers are looking for as much information about COVID-19, treatments, prevention, tissues, hand sanitizer and whatever else. In the early stages, we were trying to get out there and help them with what they needed. The opportunity came up where we could work alongside HHS [United States Department of Health and Human Services] and FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] to set up a testing site. Our first site was in Philadelphia, which ran start to finish with FEMA and HHS. We were staffing it and learning what the model looks like. Through that, it evolved into letting us open our own testing sites with our own Rite Aid play book of how we collect the samples and deliver them to the lab. We saw it was a great opportunity to be the health care provider in our communities so our customers can stay safe.
Q: Last week, you kicked off the program that lets people who are asymptomatic get tested for the virus. How important is that?
A: It’s important from two angles. One of them is the individual’s perspective. During this time, it’s important to know if you have COVID or not. If you’re not symptomatic, you can still be infectious. We recognize these individuals have the need to get tested. The second side of it is looking at it from a global perspective. To me, it looks like states are trying to open up and get to some sort of state of normal. It’s critical to support the effort as a whole to help get the country opened up as a whole and to see if it’s safe to get back out and what precautions did you need to do when you are out.
Q: How do people sign up to get tested?
A: You sign up online at www.riteaid.com and there’s a link at the very top of our page. It takes you through a screening process, which was originally developed for eligibility criteria. Now, it’s mainly to collect demographic data so we can share it with the Department of Health. After you are screened and determined eligible for testing, which most people are, you pick an appointment time for the next day or the day after. Once you show up at the site, someone greets you. We have two models running. One is when you’re outside of the store the entire time in tents and the other is when you go up to the drive-through. A pharmacist will provide you with the testing equipment and will walk you through how to do the self swab. Then, they give it back to the pharmacist and we ship it out to the lab.
Q: How did the organization determine which Rite Aid stores would have the testing available?
A: We worked with Health and Human Services to give us a general map of areas they identified as hot spots that need testing. The need was determined by what is currently available in an area, plus how many people are currently showing symptoms. We took that information to see if we had pharmacies that could accommodate testing, having the right type of drive-through and the right staffing available.
Q: What challenges were there in putting this program together in such a quick period?
A: We have grown this program from start to finish. It’s hard to say specific challenges. This was brand-new to us at Rite Aid. We didn’t have a COVID-19 testing department two months ago. We had to decide how to put the right vendors to support us, the supply chain of equipment and then, putting together how all of the pieces fit. We had to develop this within our four walls very quickly. Our strategy team is really dedicated to getting this done correctly.
Visit www.riteaid.com to see the full list of COVID-19 drive-through testing sites and to schedule your appointment.