We visited Meadowhall's drive-through coronavirus test centre - here's how it works

A drive-through coronavirus test centre has been operating 12 hours a day, seven days a week in a car park near Meadowhall since 2 June.

Thursday, 9th July 2020, 2:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th July 2020, 2:06 pm

The regional testing centre is located in the centre’s overspill car park on Weedon Street, away from busy traffic, and has been testing hundreds of people with symptoms daily.

Upon entrance we are met by security guards, the first of 60 hard-to-miss staff in high-visibility jackets, who are on site from 8am to 8pm.

They significantly outnumber the amount of people there to get a test during our visit. There are no more than five cars at any one time, but more than one person can get tested in the same vehicle.

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A staff member at the Meadowhall overspill site.

That number is about average, staff say, with a steady stream of cars throughout the day – "It’s pretty much like this all day, every day, just ticking over.”

Still, “several hundred” tests are being completed on site daily, with the capacity to increase this by up to three times. Up to 100 tests can be carried out over 30 minutes.

The antigen test is the one available, which tells you whether you currently have the virus. Most results are confirmed within 24 hours. Staff say same-day booking slots at just an hour’s notice are available.

Once inside, the first stop is the check-in. Anyone getting a test will have a QR code which can be scanned through their car window before they are asked if they are OK to test themselves. After that, they are directed to one of eight on-site bays. There are two assisted test bays for anyone who would rather trained staff head to toe in PPE test them. Around 450 people have chosen this method so far this week.

The self-test kit.

Next, it’s time to get the test kit into the car while avoiding contact. Staff hold up signs displaying a number for visitors to call for instructions. The car window is then wound down so the kit can be dropped in without people touching.

Then it’s over to you. The entire process from start to finish can take as little as five minutes or as long as half an hour, depending on the person. No one is rushed and help is on hand if needed, particularly for vulnerable people and parents testing children and babies.

"It can’t be a personal service but it’s about making it as nice as we can for people in an uncomfortable situation,” a staff member tells us.

A step-by-step guide instructs people to clean their hands before inserting the swab, which is roughly 15cm long, into the back of their mouth then up their nose. “The swabbing may feel uncomfortable,” it warns.

People must rub the tip over both tonsils for 10 seconds before placing the same end of the swab one inch up their nose “until you feel a slight resistance”, then rotate it for up to 15 seconds.

Once that’s done and the swab is placed into a vial and securely sealed, it’s over to the final station where it is collected through the low-tech but effective method of a litter picker. Then the waiting game begins.