As he was facing intense criticism for a lack of adequate testing, President Donald Trump announced in the Rose Garden in mid-March that the federal government would partner with private companies to set up drive-thru coronavirus testing sites.
He invited chief executives from Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS to the microphone and showered them with praise over the new effort. The President told attendees he envisioned consumers driving up, getting swabbed and having their samples sent off to the lab to be tested — “without having to leave your car.”
But the President’s celebrated announcement hasn’t come close to being fulfilled.
While these retailers have approximately 30,000 locations combined, the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that there are only five locations from these major retailers that are currently offering drive-thru testing — and none are open to the general public.
There is one drive-thru at a CVS in Massachusetts, three at two Walmarts and a Walgreens in the Chicago area and another at a Rite Aid in Philadelphia.
Almost all of the locations are offering coronavirus testing only to first responders and health care workers, and some offer it only to those who fall under those categories and are showing symptoms. CVS says that it’s now making testing available to seniors with symptoms in addition to first responders and health care workers.
The retailers have shown limited signs of further progress. Asked about efforts to expand the number of locations, company officials told CNN they were working with the government.
In the Rose Garden on March 13, the President hoped to showcase how the private sector, including lab companies, was assisting the federal government’s effort to expand coronavirus testing throughout the country. After wrongly claiming days earlier that “anybody that wants a test can get a test,” Trump was under intense scrutiny from lawmakers, state officials and health care providers who said there was a lack of adequate testing.
Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump put in charge of the administration’s response, also touted the effort. He said public-private partnerships like the ones with these major retailers had “laid the foundation” to help meet the nation’s testing needs by giving a “little bit of their parking lot so that people can come by and do a drive-by test.”
Initially, Walmart announced in a release that it was opening two drive-thru testing sites in the Chicago-area to serve first responders and health care workers who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19. Two days ago, Walmart clarified its sites will test only first responders and health care workers with coronavirus symptoms. The locations are not open to the general public seeking tests.
Walmart spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez told CNN on Tuesday that the two sites in the Chicago area “will help us better understand the operational, public health and safety considerations associated with federal, state and local efforts to expand access to mobile testing.”
“We are in active conversations with several states to see how we can best support their efforts to expand drive-thru testing,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t know where the next sites will be, but we are speaking with multiple states to see how we can play a role in supporting our communities at this unprecedented time.”
CVS’s one drive-thru location is in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. Asked if the company was planning to open other locations or make drive-thru testing available to the general public, a spokesman said the company remains in close contact with federal agencies and state officials “on the best path forward.” But they did not offer specifics on what that path forward is.
Rite Aid’s one location is in Philadelphia and also offers testing for first responders and health care workers.
In addition to those five public-private partnership locations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says there are 28 federal community-based testing sites that have screened more than 34,400 individuals. But these sites are also focused on testing only first responders and health care employees, not the general public.
Health and Human Services spokesperson Mia Heck said the federal government will “work with partners to make testing more accessible,” although did not provide details on when.
“These private retailers …have all opened drive-thru testing sites and know best how to meet their community’s needs,” Heck said.
“We are very grateful to these companies for stepping up and donating their time and resources to increase testing in COVID-19 hot spots.”
CNN: Major retailers have opened only 5 drive-thru testing locations, none available to the general public
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