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A health care worker is shown at CVS Health's drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 7, 2020. (AP/Amendola) A health care worker is shown at CVS Health's drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 7, 2020. (AP/Amendola)

A health care worker is shown at CVS Health's drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 7, 2020. (AP/Amendola)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy April 9, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • On March 13, Trump said his administration was partnering with national retailers to set up drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in their parking lots, so people could “be swabbed without having to leave your car.” 

  • As of April 9, Walgreens had one drive-thru testing site running and 15 preparing to open; CVS had three; Walmart had two; Rite Aid had one; Target had none.

  • The drive-thru sites those retailers have opened are not all available to just anyone. Their tests have been largely limited to people from certain high-risk groups.

Flanked in the Rose Garden by executives from Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Target, President Donald Trump announced almost a month ago that his administration would help major retailers set up drive-thru coronavirus testing sites at their locations. 

"The goal is for individuals to be able to drive up and be swabbed without having to leave your car," Trump said at the March 13 White House press conference.

The plan was for the retailers to "make portions of our parking lot available in select locations in the beginning, and scal(e) over time as supply increases," said Walmart CEO Doug McMillon. Trump said Google was building a website to help people find nearby locations.

Nearly a month later, Trump’s vision has yet to fully materialize. 

Not only did Trump vastly overstate Google’s work. Several news outlets also noted that as the calendar flipped to April, the major retailers involved in the testing effort had combined to set up just five drive-thru testing locations, despite running thousands of stores in the U.S. 

Mia Heck, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency is still working with the national retailers to add drive-thru sites, but she did not provide specifics. Representatives from those companies told us more sites would be coming.

As of April 9, Walgreens had just one drive-thru testing site in operation and 15 preparing to open. CVS had three more locations running, and Walmart had two. Target hadn’t opened any. 

Rite Aid, which joined the effort after the March 13 press conference, had one location set up. 

Overall, the retailers are far from offering the widespread, easy-access testing that Trump previewed a month ago. The drive-thru sites that are open have largely limited testing to high-risk groups, such as health care workers and first responders with COVID-19 symptoms. 

Typically, patients seeking a test must pre-register online to show that they qualify according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s testing guidelines, which Heck said were provided to all retailers involved in the effort.

Here’s the latest on the efforts to make Trump’s promise a reality.

Walgreens

Drive-thru locations in operation: One in Illinois.

Drive-thru locations to come: 15 to come in seven states.

Number of U.S. locations: 9,277 stores.

Walgreens announced April 7 that it was preparing to expand drive-thru testing to 15 new sites in seven states, with the first sites supposed to go live in a matter of days. 

That’s on top of one location that Walgreens activated March 21 in the Chicago area, which has been running roughly 150 tests per day, said Phil Caruso, a company spokesman. 

The new sites are earmarked for Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas, according to a press release on the expansion. They will rely on quick-use test kits from Abbott, which can produce results in minutes from nasal swabs that people can collect themselves while seated in their cars. 

The sites will be staffed by Walgreens pharmacists and are expected to test up to 3,000 people per day. The exact locations at Walgreens stores are still being finalized, Caruso said. 

Caruso said Walgreens has been making tests available by appointment only and to people who meet the CDC’s testing guidelines.

The guidelines recommend prioritizing symptomatic patients who are at the highest risk, starting with hospitalized patients and health workers and followed by first responders and people who are older, have underlying health complications or live in long-term care facilities. Others with symptoms are the third priority.

CVS

Drive-thru locations in operation: One in Massachusetts; one in Georgia; one in Rhode Island.

Drive-thru locations to come: To be determined.

Number of U.S. locations: 9,900 pharmacies; 1,000 MinuteClinics.

In early April, CVS announced the launch of three new drive-thru testing sites: in Atlanta; in Lincoln, Rhode Island; and in Lowell, Massachusetts. 

Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS Health, said the Lowell location replaced the company’s pilot site, which opened on March 19 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.

All three drive-thrus are set up in community parking lots that can accommodate multiple lanes of cars, rather than at CVS locations. The Lowell site is outside a movie theater, for example. The sites are staffed by health workers from MinuteClinic, the company's retail medical clinic.

Like Walgreens’, CVS’s locations are available for patients who meet the CDC’s testing criteria and make same-day appointments, the company said in a pair of press releases. Previously, the pilot location in Shrewsbury was limited to just health care workers and first responders.

The new sites are also using Abbott’s kits and can test up to 1,000 people per day, DeAngelis said, adding that CVS is so far "pleased with the volume of tests being conducted." 

DeAngelis said CVS is talking with other states about opening additional drive-thrus.

Walmart

Drive-thru locations in operation: One in Illinois; one in Arkansas.

Drive-thru locations to come: To be determined.

Number of U.S. locations: 5,355 stores.

Walmart is operating one testing drive-thru outside a store in Joliet, Illinois, and preparing to launch another site in its corporate hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas, a spokesperson told us.

Originally, Walmart had been running two sites on its properties in the Chicago area, but the company shut one down and moved all resources to the Joliet site after the state of Illinois opened its own testing location nearby, according to a company press release.

The Joliet site is currently limiting services to health care workers and first responders who have COVID-19 symptoms or were exposed to the virus, as well as symptomatic patients older than 65, the spokesperson said. The Bentonville site will initially test only health care workers and first responders with symptoms.

A Walmart executive told Yahoo Finance that shortages of personal protective equipment and test kits contributed to the slower-than-promised rollout of its drive-thru testing sites. Walmart is staffing its sites with HHS workers and company pharmacists.

Target

Drive-thru locations in operation: None.

Drive-thru locations to come: To be determined.

Number of U.S. locations: 1,871 stores; 41 distribution centers.

Target has not yet opened any drive-thru testing facilities. Jessica Carlson, a company spokesperson, told us the retailer is waiting on guidance from government officials.

"We stand committed to offering our parking lot locations and supporting their efforts when they are ready to activate," the company says on its website.

Rite Aid

Drive-thru locations in operation: One in Pennsylvania.

Drive-thru locations to come: To be determined.

Number of U.S. locations: 2,941 stores.

Rite Aid, which was not represented at Trump’s March 13 press conference, joined the effort later and opened a pilot testing site on March 23 outside a store in Philadelphia.

According to a press release, the site is only for health care workers and first responders with symptoms or known exposure to the coronavirus. Christopher Savarese, director of Rite Aid’s public relations, told us the tests are being administered by health workers and pharmacists.

He said Rite Aid is in contact with HHS about adding more sites.

What about other drive-thru testing sites?

The retailer-based testing may be sluggish, but those companies aren’t the only places offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing. Individual states have set up their own mobile testing sites at local hospitals and locations ranging from universities to soccer fields.

Brett Giroir, assistant HHS secretary, said March 16 that these labs were "blossoming all over the country," and that the federal government was "heavily involved" in 47 of them. 

Heck, the HHS spokesperson, said the agency is still recommending that states continue to pull together more testing sites as they can.

GoodRx, a startup that tracks drug prices in the U.S., identified 536 drive-thru testing sites as of April 7 in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Many sites require pre-screenings, appointments or a doctor’s referral, and not anyone who wants a test can get one.

According to the independent COVID Tracking Project, a project of the Atlantic run by reporters and data scientists, the U.S. has administered over 2 million total tests as of April 9.

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Our Sources

COVID Tracking Project, accessed April 9, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Evaluating and Testing Persons for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)," accessed April 9, 2020

Walgreens, "Walgreens Expanding Drive-Thru Testing To 15 New Locations in Seven States," April 7, 2020

CNBC, "Walgreens to open 15 drive-thru testing sites for the coronavirus across 7 states," April 7, 2020

CVS Health, "CVS Health expands rapid COVID-19 drive-through testing sites into Massachusetts," April 7, 2020

ABC News, "CVS chief medical officer talks ramping up testing across US," April 7, 2020

CVS Health, "CVS Health announces opening of rapid COVID-19 drive-through testing sites in Georgia and Rhode Island," April 6, 2020

GoodRX, "Where Can I Get a Drive-Thru Coronavirus (COVID-19) Test Near Me?" April 5, 2020

Walmart, "Stepping Up and Helping Out: How We’re Supporting Coronavirus Testing Efforts," April 3, 2020

Target, ""Target's coronavirus response," April 2, 2020

CNN, "Major retailers have opened only 5 drive-thru testing locations, none available to the general public," March 31, 2020

McClatchy, "Retailers agreed to coronavirus testing in their parking lots. Then they hit hurdles," March 30, 2020

Vox, "Trump promised coronavirus testing at national retailers. Weeks later, it still isn’t in place." March 28, 2020

The Washington Post, "Trump promised scores of big-box retailers would offer parking lots for covid-19 testing. There are only five of them." March 27, 2020

Yahoo Finance, "Walmart's EVP of Corporate Affairs on how the company is responding to the coronavirus," March 26, 2020

Rite Aid, "Rite Aid Joins White House COVID-19 Response Working Group," March 22, 2020

CVS Health, "CVS Health opens COVID-19 testing site in Massachusetts," March 19, 2020

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing," March 17, 2020

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Conference," March 13, 2020

Email interview with Jessica Carlson, spokesperson for Target, April 8, 2020

Email interview with Mike DeAngelis, senior director of corporate communications at CVS Health, April 8, 2020

Email interview with Jennifer Rodriguez, senior director of global responsibility communications at Walmart, April 8, 2020

Email interview with Phil Caruso, senior manager of issues management at Walgreens, April 8, 2020

Email interview with Mia Heck, director of external affairs in the office of the assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services, April 8, 2020

Phone interview with Christopher Savarese, director of public relations at Rite Aid, April 9, 2020

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