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Sgt. Robert Fitzgerald of the 128th Brigade Support Battalion, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, explains the use of a COVID-19 test swab on Monday in McKeesport. (Tube City Almanac photo)
A new drive-through COVID-19 test site located at the Industrial Center of McKeesport is expected to remain operational for 45 to 60 days, but could stay open longer if necessary.
“This pandemic changes constantly and the planning changes constantly,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department.
Allegheny County and state officials offered a tour of the site on Monday morning. The site opens to the public at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Health officials are hopeful that within a few months, most doctors’ offices will be able to offer COVID-19 tests, Bogen said, so for now, the McKeesport site is the only drive-through facility planned in Allegheny County.
Up to 250 people per day can be tested at the site, located just off of Lysle Boulevard, officials said. Samples will be taken by courier daily to a state lab in Harrisburg, they said, and results of most tests will be available in 48 hours or less.
“This is really the right time and the right place,” Bogen said. “With kids going back to school, people are concerned and want to get tested.”
People who want to schedule an appointment can do so online, or by calling (412) 209-2262 during normal business hours (8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday).
Members of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 128th Brigade Support Battalion, based at Crane Armory near Greentree, are assisting at the site, as well as Allegheny County emergency management and public works personnel and McKeesport police, firefighters and paramedics.
“This really took an army to put together,” Bogen said.
About 100 people will be working at the site each day, depending on the time of day and demand for tests, county officials said.
There are two lanes available at the McKeesport drive-through COVID-19 testing site, which is designed to accommodate up to 250 tests per day. (Tube City Almanac photo)
McKeesport was selected both because it had an available, accessible location as well as a large percentage of vulnerable residents.
Elderly and Black residents are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, a complex disease transmitted by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. According to health department statistics, although only 14 percent of Allegheny County residents are Black, they represent 25 percent of the county’s COVID-19 cases.
People age 70 and older represent only 14 percent of the cases in Allegheny County, but 84 percent of the deaths.
“Minority communities and low-income communities have been hit the hardest during this pandemic,” state Rep. Austin Davis said. The McKeesport drive-through site “creates a lot of access, quite frankly, for the lower-income communities in the Mon Valley.”
The RIDC park was an ideal location, state Sen. Jim Brewster said.
“We’ve been saying for years that these sites are shovel-ready for any kind of use,” he said, adding, “we didn’t think we were going to have to use it for a pandemic.”
Although county officials are asking anyone who wants to be tested to make an appointment in advance, people who do not have access to email or who forget to make an appointment will be accommodated, said Matt Brown, chief of emergency services for Allegheny County.
“Our duty really is to not turn anyone away,” Brown said.
There are two lanes available for testing, and people being tested do not have to get out of their cars. A member of the National Guard or other emergency personnel will explain the testing process to each visitor, provide the testing swab, and then seal it into a vial after the sample is taken.
Children as young as 3 also can be tested using the same process, officials said.
Officials said that residents who do not have a car and want walk-up testing should first try one of the county’s 15 federally qualified health centers, including clinics in McKeesport, Braddock, Hazelwood, Homestead and Swissvale. But Brown said walk-up visitors also can be tested, if necessary, at the drive-through facility.
Jason Togyer is editor of Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published September 14, 2020.