A white tent has been erected outside an urgent care clinic in Murphy where drive-thru evaluation and testing for COVID-19 began Friday in Collin County.

The move is part of a shift by DFW-based Sinai Urgent Care to only offer drive-thru testing and no in-office visits at two of its three area centers. In addition to Murphy, Sinais Park Cities location began the drive-thru service last week. Its North Dallas location, where testing is not offered, is only open for in-office appointments not related to the coronavirus.

The new drive-thru service, which comes during a time of high demand for testing for the virus, helps separate possibly contagious patients from others waiting for non-COVID-19 related visits, says Dr. Nick Karr, founder and owner of Sinai Urgent Care.

And it protects the staff, too.

We realized we had to do something when patients with COVID and non-COVID symptoms were ending up in the same location,”he says. “The patient room at the drive-thru is their car and we’re keeping everyone safe.”

Up to 30 patients each day of the week can be tested between the new hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Park Cities or Murphy location. Patients must make an appointment online where they are then instructed to send photos of their ID and insurance card to prevent any handoff of papers or other items during the visit. They are asked a series of questions about whether they have been out of the country or what symptoms they are experiencing. They are sent a reminder text 10 minutes before the appointment.

After pulling up to a designated parking space marked by a cone, the patient texts the number posted in their lane to let the staff know they have arrived. At the Murphy clinic, they are then directed to drive through the tent where their temperature is taken before their throat or nose is swabbed while sitting in their car. The Park Cities clinic does not have a tent but an overhang provides some privacy during testing, Karr says.

In some cases, patients are also tested for the flu or strep.

We are seeing a high rate of co-infections with more than one thing going on and we don’t want to miss those,” Karr says.

In the Dallas government-run program, up to 250 patients per site per day are being tested in the parking lot of American Airlines at 2500 Victory Boulevard and the Ellis Davis Field House at 9191 South Polk Street. Anyone getting tested at those sites must have a temperature of 99.6 degrees or higher, shortness of breath, and a cough. Open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the sites have only 250 tests available per day at each location.

Such strict criteria doesnt apply to the Sinai testing sites where patients who are not exhibiting symptoms but who have been in contact with someone with the virus may be tested, Karr says. Special hours for testing of first responders are being considered at the Sinai sites.

Sinai Urgent Care accepts major insurance providers as well as Medicare and Tricare. Self pay for each COVID-19 test runs about $229, Karr says. A comprehensive list can be found on their website. Last week, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, the state’s largest health insurer with 6 million members, joined other insurance companies in its announcement that it would waive out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment. Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealth Group announced earlier that they are waiving cost-sharing for their customers.

“We make it very clear to patients upfront, but as of right now, when patients are seen in private practices such as ours, it is only for patients with insurance that the visit is covered at 100% with zero cost sharing by the patient,” Karr says. “This is what the Families First Act dictates, and that law is how we are making our decisions as of this time.”

They do offer the self-pay pricing for those patients who do not have insurance and wish to pay out of pocket and do not have insurance. For those who cannot afford to pay, Karr points out that other resources are available such as the two testing sites in Dallas and the hospitals where their visits are covered with zero out-of-pocket as well.

Of the more than 200 tests performed in Park Cities over the last week, Karr says about 10 tested positive for COVID-19. Those patients were ordered to quarantine to prevent exposure to others and the numbers were reported to county health authorities. If a patient is exhibiting a rapid heart rate or trouble breathing, they are automatically referred to the nearest emergency room even before coming in for testing.

The only way we can get ahead of this is to make more testing available so we know who has it and who doesnt,Karr says.

More flexible ways of testing are now available and results are coming back as little as three days or quicker. Karr says he is more optimistic today about the availability of tests and the necessary personal protective equipment than he was just a few weeks ago when results were taking as long as 10 days to process.

For awhile it was like playing whack-a-molefirst there were no tests then there were issues with getting the equipment needed to test,he says. But I see hope with all the ingenuity and people reaching out and pulling together to figure this out.

He is expecting another shipment of 500 masks soon as he prepares to see more patients. He says before he began testing at the clinics he met with his seven providers and 30 staff members to be assured they felt comfortable with the procedures.

We all agree that its our duty to put ourself out there and help where we can,he says. We all want to get our lives back to normal. Thats going to take a while. To get there we need more testing.

The Park Cities location is in Snider Plaza at 3414 Milton Ave in Dallas. The Murphy location is at 211 E Farm to Market Rd 544, Suite 401. The North Dallas center for regular non-COVID-19 appointments is at 18101 Preston Rd. Suite 201.

For more information or to make an appointment, go to https://www.sinaiurgentcare.com.

Annette Nevins

Annette Bernhard Nevins is a Plano-based award-winning journalist who specializes in breaking news and features. She has held staff positions at several Texas newspapers, including The Dallas Morning News,...