Israel could soon roll out drive-through testing for the coronavirus, with a goal of testing as many as 15,000 patients per day, according to Magen David Adom medical director Refael Strugo. This would represent a 1,900% increase in daily screening.
Individuals would drive up to large medical tents placed strategically across the country and be swabbed without having to leave their car. This, said Strugo, would allow for quicker testing – about 2 or 3 minutes per test – to see if someone is infected with the novel coronavirus. It would also allow the country to better determine how many people are really carrying the virus, since as many as 80% of patients are asymptomatic.
“Formally, as of today, there are just over 210 patients,” Strugo told The Jerusalem Post. “But I believe there are hundreds more [cases] that we don’t know about. If we test more people then we will find all or more of the persons that are carrying the virus – the ones that are asymptomatic or who have very minor symptoms – and then we could isolate them and stop the spread of the disease.
“This is what the Health Ministry thinks would be the best way. I agree,” Strugo said.
Today, MDA is carrying out only around 750 tests per day. Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman has said he hopes to raise that number to closer to 2,000 tests per day.
Strugo explained that there are several challenges to increasing the number of tests in Israel at all.
“We need equipment for the tests themselves,” he said, explaining that the Health Ministry is responsible for purchasing the test kits and there are not enough.
Israel tests using what is known as a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR screening, which was invented in the US in 1983.
To administer the test, an MDA paramedic travels to the home of a potential patient. The paramedic swabs his or her two nostrils and mouth and stores a refrigerated sample, which is then delivered to one of Israel’s five coronavirus testing labs. The whole process takes around an hour and a half.
Strugo said there are labs at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center, Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa and Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center. However, none of these labs is working exclusively on detecting coronavirus infections, and certainly not 24/7.
Additionally, MDA has been lacking the manpower to conduct tests, he said, noting that the organization recently trained an additional thousand workers and volunteers, and on Sunday it started training medical students.