Testing for COVID-19 is a good way to help learn about the novel coronavirus and its spread, and the city of Phoenix is ensuring residents have multiple ways to get tested.
On Aug. 18, Phoenix unveiled its COVID-19 Mobile Testing Van to the community. The unit is available to everyone, but the scheduled locations of the van will only be within Phoenix boundaries to support the city’s underserved communities.
It operates 7 a.m.-1 p.m. five days each week except Wednesdays and Saturdays. The hours may change slightly as fall approaches.
"The COVID-19 Mobile Testing Van has been very well received by the community," stated Yvette G. Roeder, senior public information officer for the Phoenix Public Works Department. "The designated locations of the testing van are accessible to the community, especially in the underserved communities, evident by the appointment slots that are always filled."
Those wanting to be tested should schedule an appointment online, whether testing is done through the COVID-19 Mobile Testing Van or through the COVID-19 testing sites cosponsored by the city of Phoenix.
Appointments help medical staff properly prepare for the day and allow the entire process — from signing of the consent forms, to the actual testing, and to receiving actual results — to be more efficient. Walk-ups are discouraged because of the dangerously high temperatures the state is experiencing.
For a list of COVID-19 testing events co-sponsored by the city of Phoenix, the public can visit phoenix.gov/COVIDtesting.
In the first four days of testing, Ms. Roeder said the mobile unit has averaged 200 tests each day.
Because of how quickly appointment slots have filled up, the number of people who show up without an appointment and the warm reception of the mobile unit, officials have seen that there is a definite need for free and accessible COVID-19 testing, especially in the city’s underserved communities.
"Our Mayor and City Council believe that, as long as there is no tried, tested and approved vaccine for the Coronavirus yet, testing should be available and accessible to everyone in our community through different means," Ms. Roeder stated. "That is why, in addition to the COVID-19 Mobile Testing Van, the city of Phoenix has partnered with other local healthcare facilities to provide free COVID-19 drive-thru testing at various city parks and community centers throughout the city every weekend. We have been offering those services to everyone since May."
Although daily new cases of COVID-19 in Arizona have dipped below 1,000 for nearly two weeks, officials say the community must not become complacent and must continue to practice recommendations from the CDC, as well as other health officials.
"Until we have an approved vaccine accessible to everyone, continued testing remains crucial," Ms. Roeder stated.
Since its launch a week ago, the city has received several inquiries and requests from different organizations to host the mobile unit at their locations. The requests include those from school districts, which are beginning to reopen for in-person instruction. Along with that reopening comes requirements to report outbreaks at schools.
"We continue to evaluate the feasibility of having the Testing Van in schools, as well as other locations, and hope to release the Van’s schedule for the month of September soon," Ms. Roeder stated. "The Van’s priority is to serve Phoenix’s underserved communities. If a school location is scheduled in the near future, students and faculty are very welcome to take advantage of the free testing. The Mobile Testing Van will be utilized throughout the entire Phoenix community and also welcomes others unaffiliated with the school for testing."
The mobile unit offers two types of testing administered by the medical staff of Vincere Cancer Center — antigen and antibody tests.
The COVID-19 antigen test identifies the virus itself, with a sample taken from a nasal or nasal-pharyngeal swab. If the virus is present in the body, the test results will be positive. If the individual is recovering from the infection, the test result will likely be negative. However, there may be a period of viral shedding that may result in positive result.
Results for the antigen test can be acquired within 15 minutes using the SOFIA SARS Antigen Test by Quidel [quidel.com].
The antibody test checks for IgM and IgG antibodies, both of which are the immune system’s response to the virus but not the coronavirus itself. The benefit of the antibody test is to show current or previous infection response and to show possible immunity to future infections. It doesn’t check for the presence of the virus currently in the body.
Officials say it may take seven days after exposure to the virus for the antigen test to be positive because, in general, research shows that it takes about seven days after exposure for the immune system to generate IgM antibodies.
The antibody test is done through a very small blood sample using a fingerstick. The results can be obtained within 15 minutes as well.
The city of Phoenix was able to fund this project using Coronavirus Relief Funds allocated for COVID-19 to promote better health outcomes and community testing, officials said.
The mobile testing van is a 2020 Ford T-250 Transit, and customized with a foldable workstation, refrigerator, shelving, a generator with 120v outlets and USB ports and a roof-mounted air condition unit. An electric awning was expected to be installed by the end of August.