COVID-19 testing for people without symptoms draws 600 in Delaware

The process of getting a saliva-based test takes only a few minutes.  (Courtesy of Agatha Bacelar for Curative Inc.)

The process of getting a saliva-based test takes only a few minutes. (Courtesy of Agatha Bacelar for Curative Inc.)

Delaware public health officials, hospitals and urgent care centers have struggled to meet the demand by residents to find out if they have the coronavirus. Until now, only people with symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath could get assessed.

Not anymore.

Asymptomatic people can now get tested too, as the state has paid $30 million for 200,000 saliva-based kits from Curative Inc., a new biotech company based outside Los Angeles.

The Carney administration now says the state now has the capacity to test 80,000 people a month, which is more than twice as many administered in the two months since the first resident tested positive.

That expansion effort kicked off Thursday with a drive-in event in Seaford, located in the southwest corner of hard-hit Sussex County. Curative field director Agatha Bacelar said nearly 600 people got tested in a process that only takes a few minutes.

“You get the test inside your car,” Bacelar told WHYY in a phone call from Chicago, where she was setting up a testing drive there.

“We ask that people cough three times into their elbow to bring up the fluid from their lungs to their mouth and then you use a Q-tip to swab inside your mouth for 20 seconds, rubbing the inside of your cheeks, gums, roof of mouth and tongue.

“And then you put that Q-tip inside a test tube that has stabilizing liquid and drop it off in a collection bin as you exit.”

Bacelar said the majority of people getting tests were not experiencing symptoms of a virus that has infected 7,373 Delawareans and been attributed to 271 deaths.

“There were some people who were definitely sick,” Bacelar said. “When you asked them for their name or their confirmation number they had trouble speaking. They had a hoarse voice.

“But I’d say most people who came by might have been curious or doing it for work purposes. They needed formal proof that they were negative so they could return to work.”

The tests are already at the lab in California. Delaware Emergency Management Director A.J. Schall said people should get an email within 36 hours of being tested to learn the results.

Schall and Bacelar said numerous events are now being scheduled, including one Thursday, May 21, in Middletown. They urged residents to preregister to streamline the process, but said people who don’t can still walk or drive up and get their swab.

Residents can find the schedule of testing events at https://coronavirus.delaware.gov/testing/.

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