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People can swab themselves for COVID-19 at 3 Tampa Bay CVS stores

The test is free to patients, and results are expected in about three days.
CVS Health is opening three local drive-thru test sites on Friday where individuals can swab themselves for COVID-19 from the privacy of their car. A medical professional will give them instructions and oversee the collection.
CVS Health is opening three local drive-thru test sites on Friday where individuals can swab themselves for COVID-19 from the privacy of their car. A medical professional will give them instructions and oversee the collection. [ Photo courtesy of CVS Health ]
Published May 14, 2020
Updated May 14, 2020

Tampa Bay residents will soon have another option for COVID-19 testing, one that involves people inserting the long swab into their own noses.

Three local CVS Health stores are offering the self-swab drive-thru option starting Friday for those who are experiencing symptoms, like a cough or fever. People who are interested must book an appointment before visiting the stores in Tarpon Springs, Largo and Lutz.

Similar to drive-thru sites operated by BayCare Health, Hillsborough County and other providers, people will stay in their cars during the test. There will be no cost to the patient, though anyone with insurance will be asked to provide it.

Related: Expansion of Pinellas coronavirus testing off to rough start

The big difference comes in who is collecting the sample. Traditionally, a medical professional inserts the six-inch swab far into someone’s nose, holding it there for a few seconds and circling it once to collect a good sample. Doctors have described the feeling as “mildly irritating.” Those who received the test were a little more colorful. One said it felt like they touched his brain.

With the CVS version, patients are in charge of swabbing themselves while a pharmacist watches and provides instruction.

“It’s all overseen by a medical professional,” said CVS Health spokesperson Tara Burke. “It’s a self-administered swab where you take it and put it in your nasal cavity. It does not go all the way up.”

CVS Health is opening three local drive-thru test sites on Friday where individuals can swab themselves for COVID-19 from the privacy of their car. A medical professional will give them instructions and oversee the collection.
CVS Health is opening three local drive-thru test sites on Friday where individuals can swab themselves for COVID-19 from the privacy of their car. A medical professional will give them instructions and oversee the collection. [ Photo courtesy of CVS Health ]

Two University of South Florida health care experts told the Tampa Bay Times they expect this kind of test to become more common. After all, people can test for all sorts of things on their own, prominent professor Jay Wolfson said, including pregnancies and colorectal cancer.

“We can expect to see more self-testing,” Wolfson said. “The only concern is doing it right.”

That’s why it’s important to train people in advance, Wolfson said. That includes the pharmacists overseeing the collections and the on-the-spot training that people get while in their cars. And the more people who touch the sample between collecting it and then processing it at a lab, the more chance there is of a slip along the way that can affect the accuracy of the results.

Dr. Kevin Sneed, founding dean of USF’s College of Pharmacy, said he is in favor of self-administered tests because of the increased accessibility they provide, but he has concerns about the current quality of the test.

“I have no doubt that eventually the tests will get better and we’ll have more frequent testing,” Sneed said, referring to both self-testing and diagnostic point-of-care testing. “Just today it’s not where it needs to be.”

Sneed said he doesn’t know enough about the sensitivity of the tests that CVS is using to know if a light swab of the inside of the nose is going to get enough of the viral material needed for an accurate diagnosis. If it does prove reliable, he said this could be a way to increase the frequency of testing.

A few people told the Tampa Bay Times they’d be concerned about the accuracy of the test if they administered it themselves. Others worried whether they could handle the feeling if they were the ones holding the stick.

“I know how uncomfortable it is, so I wouldn’t be able to do it myself,” said Fay Romett, 49, of Sarasota.

Having experienced a less-than-pleasant flu test a couple years ago, Rommett said the thought of self-pain is enough to keep her away for now.

Jay Hartman was more direct with his concerns: “That should be done by a medical professional," Hartman, 43, of Tampa said. “Not shoving that boat-oar sized thing down my nose. Nope.”

Mindy Ecob of Tampa said the testing at other sites where a doctor or nurse performs the swab seems more official. She said she would worry a little about accuracy for a self-swab, but the CVS drive-thru option “sounds more convenient.”

Meredith Hungerford said she’d feel way more comfortable performing the test herself in the privacy of her own car. “A lot of people get too close and don’t worry about personal space so I am worried about that."

Alan Bellittera of Riverview got tested last week at one of Hillsborough County’s drive-thru sites in Ruskin. He said he was more confident with a medical professional conducting the test.

“The test I got was actually back of the throat and not the nasal swab,” Bellittera said. “It was quick, painless, and I was in and out of there in about five minutes.”

Related: Test swabs by mouth, not nose, are good enough, experts say. But some wonder.

He got his results — negative — within six days. CVS Health is telling patients to expect their results, provided by a third party laboratory, within three days — a far more expedient time frame than many Tampa Bay residents have experienced at local drive-thrus in the last couple months.

Some patients reported waiting 10 days or more after visiting a BayCare or Hillsborough County site, meaning some finished the two-week quarantine before learning whether they actually had contracted the novel coronavirus.

Burke said the labs CVS Health partnered with have assured the provider they can return results to patients in three days, or close to it.

Related: Waiting on test results? It's taking 8 days or more to process coronavirus cases in Tampa Bay.

The three Tampa Bay sites are part of a larger initiative by CVS to make testing available to anyone experiencing symptoms who meets the requirements listed on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

CVS Health is opening 51 locations across Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and other parts of Florida. The goal is to process up to 1.5 million tests per month, subject to availability of supplies and lab capacity, a CVS Health news release said.

The Tampa Bay stores have the capacity to test up to 50 people a day, Burke said. People must make appointments by visiting CVS.com. All testing will take place inside a person’s car. No walk-ups are allowed and no testing will happen inside of stores.

Related: Hillsborough looks to extend testing for minorities and people without cars

Because this is a new service, Burke said she is not able to provide an estimated wait time. CVS Health provides on-demand COVID-19 testing in other states, and that process usually takes 30 minutes from start to finish, Burke said.

Want to get tested for COVID-19 at CVS Health?

WHERE: There are three CVS pharmacies providing the self-swab, drive-thru tests in Tampa Bay:

  • 1000 East Tarpon Avenue, Tarpon Springs
  • 2322 Land O Lakes Boulevard, Lutz
  • 8905 Bryan Dairy Road, Largo

WHEN: The sites open Friday and typically run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the times vary.

HOW: Patients must make appointments by visiting CVS.com.

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