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National Guard hopes to improve traffic flow after drive-thru COVID testing site overwhelmed Tuesday

Daylong event was cut short to 3 hours
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Posted at 3:08 PM, Dec 20, 2021

CLEVELAND — Due to high demand at the COVID-19 testing site at the garage of the W.O. Walker Building off Euclid Avenue, National Guard and hospital officials ended operations at the site after just three hours at noon on Tuesday, but said they will work to improve traffic flow for the rest of the week.

Wednesday update

The Ohio Department of Health reopened the site Wednesday at 9 a.m. to only those who have previously registered for the site. The site is not welcoming any new patients.

How to get tested later this week

While the drive-thru testing site has stopped accepting patients for the day on Tuesday, National Guard Major-General John Harris said at a news briefing Tuesday afternoon that "the need for testing still exists, and we're going to find a way to get it done without impeding the folks who are trying to get to work there downtown."

The on-site drive-thru testing, located in the garage of the W. O. Walker Building in University Circle, 10524 Euclid Avenue, will open again at 9 a.m. Wednesday. However, given the demand for testing shown on Tuesday, which has been accelerated because of how scarce retail test kits have been, it is recommended that you arrive early.

On Tuesday night, ODH stopped accepting registration for the testing site.

RELATED: Registration no longer accepted for Cleveland testing site due to overwhelming demand, ODH says

The test is free, and individuals do not need a doctor’s order to get tested. Masking is required except when the test is underway.

The site offers PCR tests, which will provide results in about two to three days.

Unless changes are announced, the site will continue to operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday this week and will be closed Saturday, Dec. 25. Additional hours and sites may be announced later.

What happened Tuesday

The drive-thru testing site, staffed by the Ohio National Guard and the Ohio Department of Health, was scheduled to open at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

According to a News 5 journalist on scene, the lot was full 30 minutes before testing began, and traffic control officers were telling motorists to come back at 9:30 or 10 a.m.

Cars line up at the COVID-19 testing site

The line began moving at 9:25 a.m., according to our crew.

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Cars line up for the COVID-19 testing site at the W.O. Walker Building on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.

"We left North Ridgeville at about 8:30 this morning to get here early so we could get in line," said Jennifer Swallow, one of the lucky few hundred people to get in line before the line was cut off around noon. "I spent a better part of my day [Monday] trying to find even a rapid test. I was able to order one from one of the manufacturers and it was double the cost to overnight it so it should be at home. But it’s not a PCR test."

Harris said the testing site was selected given its proximity to hospital facilities in the area as well as the number of people who have been flooding local emergency rooms simply trying to get a COVID test. A majority of the people waiting in line that News 5 talked with on Tuesday were trying to get tested ahead of the holiday weekend.

"We thought it would be optimal, but of course, there's that law of unintended consequences. We didn’t really foresee the numbers showing up this morning and the congestion that we experienced," Harris said. "When I say re-look, I mean it may be going back to the drawing board."

Even if people had waited in line for two or three hours, it was not a guarantee that they would, in fact, get tested.

"They just told us to go home. It is pretty frustrating. They could have done this at the IX Center. Why pick the most congested area of Cleveland?" one man said.

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Cars line up for the COVID-19 testing site at the W.O. Walker Building on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.

By mid-morning, the line of cars outside the W.O. Walker building spilled onto surrounding streets, causing significant traffic issues in Downtown Cleveland and University Circle.

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View from a nearby rooftop of the line that has formed for the COVID-19 testing site at the W.O. Walker Building in Cleveland.

"The fact that it was so overwhelmed so quickly, I think, is just a great indication of how extreme the situation is for the hospital there," Harris said. "So it was shut off, cut down. The line was cut down after three hours because it was disrupting traffic. So we've got to re-look at the operations there."

At 12:06 p.m., the Cleveland Clinic tweeted that they would not be accepting any new patients Tuesday.

Harris said that the National Guard will reevaluate the testing site for the rest of the week and make changes to hopefully reduce the impact on traffic.

"The intent is to keep going because there's clearly a need, but we just have to put our operations folks on and figure out, in conjunction with those hospitals, how we can manage traffic flow, not create impediments for the community there," he said.

Why the testing site was set up

When the testing site was announced on Monday, a joint news release from the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals stated the site was in response to a surge of COVID-19 infections that has placed increased demand on healthcare services. The site was set up to limit the number of individuals going into hospitals and emergency departments just to be tested for COVID.

"So many people were going to the emergency department for nothing other than COVID testing that they asked us to see what we could do to relieve some of that pressure on the emergency department," Harris said. "So we established that site as a joint site between Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and some other hospital systems there in the Cleveland area. So it's a joint endeavor. But the idea was to move that testing and move that patient load away from the emergency department and move it into that drive-thru site."

Starting Tuesday, hospital systems in Greater Cleveland, including locations with Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth and St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, limited COVID testing in emergency departments to patients who are going to be admitted to the hospital, the release states.

This will allow emergency department personnel to focus on urgent medical emergencies, as the hospital systems continue to treat record numbers of patients for COVID-19,” the joint news release states.

The Ohio Department of Health is also offering free, rapid, at-home antigen testing kits at sites across Ohio, including local health departments, public libraries and community health centers. These kits may also be available for purchase at pharmacies and retailers. Click here to find locations offering at-home tests.

It is important to know, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, that a patient who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and receives a positive test result on a home antigen test (self-test kit) does not need a PCR test to confirm a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, and should immediately isolate and work with public health officials for any necessary contact tracing,” the release states.

Using these rapid tests when available will give patients in need of a PCR test faster access to them, officials said.

Anyone in medical distress is still encouraged to utilize emergency departments or call 911.

RELATED: Top official at Cleveland Clinic urges caution as omicron variant rapidly spreads through Northeast Ohio

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