Cleveland clinic opens drive-through coronavirus testing in parking lot

Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Christy Botts, clinical manager at Physicians Services, puts on protective equipment to swab someone for a COVID-19 test on March 29.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - For the past month, Matthew McNulty was preparing his clinic to begin testing for the new coronavirus.

This weekend, he put his staff at Physicians Services to work swabbing as many people as wanted it. The drug and alcohol testing facility in Cleveland, Tennessee, held drive-thru testing for COVID-19, allowing people with symptoms to be tested without needing a doctor's referral.

Under the guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a narrow population qualifies for testing for the coronavirus, including hospitalized patients with symptoms of COVID-19, individuals with underlying conditions that make them high risk or anyone who recently had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Scientists argue more widespread testing, as was done in other countries such as South Korea, will help Americans understand how bad the problem is and where the virus is spreading. Earlier this month, Gov. Bill Lee announced drive-thru testing sites.

McNulty, owner of Physician Services, said gathering as much information as possible will keep the public safe.

"Testing is paramount," McNulty said. "We need more tests in a short amount of time in a safe, convenient, accessible medium."

By Sunday afternoon, 1,537 people in the state had tested positive for the coronavirus, with seven deaths. Nationwide, more than 2,100 people have died from the disease.

photo Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Christy Botts, clinical manager at Physicians Services, stands outside the clinic in Cleveland on March 29 waiting to swab someone for a COVID-19 test.

The group averaged about 50 tests a day over the weekend, and people can expect their results back in about three days, McNulty said. First responders were tested at the site for free. Everyone else who was tested in the parking lot paid $200 after registering online.

Legislation passed by Congress this month made testing free. However, people may still have to pay if they are tested someplace out of their insurance plan's network or if they are tested for things that are not COVID-19. People who are hospitalized could pay more than $1,300 out of pocket, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The only contact between people with COVID-19 symptoms and the workers in Cleveland was during the swabbing. Everything else - registering, paying - was done online before the visit, McNulty said.

McNulty said he expects that by midweek his organization will begin doing rapid testing for the coronavirus - a qualitative measure of whether a swab should be sent to a lab for definitive testing. In the meantime, the group will continue swabbing people in their cars.

"We are going to continue testing as long as the community needs us," he said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.