SWAMPSCOTT — In this seaside town, the home of Gov. Charlie Baker, town officials have declared a state of emergency, there has been one “presumptive positive” case of COVID-19 so far, and the town has removed basketball hoops from playgrounds to keep kids from playing pick-up games.
Now, urgent care clinics are turning into testing sites for COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus), including the American Family Care Urgent Care in the Swampscott Mall, 450 Paradise Road.
In the formerly bustling shopping plaza, a section of the parking lot at the front of the Urgent Care has been cordoned off by caution tape and barrels. A tent in front of the door is where patients are being screened.
A handwritten sign board gives people the number they should call first. The town’s website says the urgent care started doing testing this past weekend by appointment only.
The AFC Urgent Care in Beverly is also doing testing that involves calling ahead. Only patients that are symptomatic, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria and guidelines will be tested “due to an extreme shortage of testing kits,” according to the centers’ website.
“People who feel they are symptomatic should call Urgent Care in Swampscott...for a telephone screening and to see if they qualify for testing,” according to the town’s website. Testing is available for those with all types of insurance, including Medicare and MassHealth.
Carewell, which has an urgent care center in a plaza at 229 Andover St. in Peabody, is also asking those with a cough, fever and shortness of breath to call ahead before coming in to be tested.
“To make sure our patients, visitors and staff stay safe while we address the COVID-19 epidemic, Carewell has established visitor restrictions at our practices,” according to Carewell’s website. “We have implemented rapid encounter testing. When appropriate, the patient may call in from the car and staff will process the encounter and testing outside the clinic, a modified drive-through testing.”
Marianne Hartmann, chairperson of the Swampscott Board of Health, posted to Facebook over the weekend about the AFC testing in town while also begging people to be honest, because every exam not only requires the use of a scarce test kit, but the use of the protective gear that goes along with each test.
Hartmann, who is also a nurse for Swampscott Middle School, said in an interview that the protocol involves those who suspect they may have symptoms being screened over the phone, first. For those who meet the criteria, they will be given an appointment.
Patients are then seen in a tent outside the front door, where they will be given a rapid flu test. According to guidelines, which Hartmann said could change, those who test positive for flu will not be tested for COVID-19. Those who are tested for COVID-19 are then advised to self-quarantine until results come back in about four to five days, because of the backlog.
Hartmann said residents have been focusing on the single presumptive positive test in town, but she said there is no reason to key on that result. Because symptoms can take up to 14 days to show up after someone is exposed, and several days for test results to become known, it’s likely there are many others who are walking around who have been exposed.
“That’s why the distancing and stay at home is so important,” she said.
“Folks should stay at home,” said Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald, adding that when he can, he is working from home as well. The concern, he said, is they may be facing a high volume of infections over the next five to 10 days.
Fitzgerald wasn’t sure if other AFC locations are doing screenings, but cautioned: “You cannot just show up. You have to have an appointment.” The town has been working with other health care providers to make sure they are not overwhelmed.
Fitzgerald admits the sight of the testing center in the Swampscott Mall can be jarring, but it’s also a sign of our “new normal.”
“It’s Orwellian. It’s a different world we are living in,” he said.
Call ahead to make an appointment
AFC Urgent Care, 450 Paradise Road, Swampscott, 781-691-9366
AFC Urgent Care, 50 Dodge St., Beverly, 978-922-2171
Carewell Urgent Care, 229 Andover St., Peabody, 978-826-5950