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Cleveland Clinic Drive-Thru Testing Overwhelmed, Prompting Policy Change

Stow resident Lauren Egts waiting in her car at coronavirus testing site in Mayfield Heights [Marlene Harris-Taylor / ideastream]
Stow resident Lauren Egts waiting in her car at coronavirus testing site in Mayfield Heights [ Marlene Harris-Taylor / ideastream]

Updated at 11:14 a.m., Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Cleveland-area hospitals are ramping up coronavirus testing and area residents are responding in droves.

Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals opened a new drive-thru testing center, at the UH Landerbrook Health Center in Mayfield Heights on Tuesday. This is in addition to the original site which opened Saturday near University Circle.

After just one day of the new testing center being open, the Cleveland Clinic announced a policy change to reserve tests for high-risk patients.

"Following overwhelming demand for testing we have made the decision to reserve COVID-19 testing for patients who are at the highest risk," Cleveland Clinic officials said in a statement released late Tuesday evening.

The Clinic is prioritizing tests for those who are currently hospitalized and those who are age 61 and older. Younger patients, even with a doctor's order, are instructed to stay home and talk to their doctor for further guidance. Additionally, patients with a Cleveland Clinic physician's order will no longer be tested at the new Mayfield Heights location, according to the statement. 

Jeannine Denholm, a spokesperson for University Hospitals, said UH is not changing their testing parameters at this time. Any patient, as long as they have a UH physician's order, is still able to show up at the Mayfield Heights site and get tested.

Even though the Mayfield Heights location is now only accepting patients with UH orders and the University Circle location is now only accepting patients with Cleveland Clinic orders, Denholm said the two testing sites are still a joint project and that the hospital systems continue to work together.

This news comes after long lines and frustration greeted some seeking testing as the new Mayfield Heights center opened.

It was slated to open at 11 am Tuesday, but people started arriving in the morning, said Lauren Egts.

A long line of cars at the UH/Cleveland Clinic coronavirus testing center in Mayfield Heights. [Marlene Harris-Taylor / ideastream]

Egts, a college student who returned home to Stow on Sunday from New York, was among the throng of people waiting in a long line of cars that came in from both directions.

Egts said she was feeling really sick on the drive home, so she had a virtual appointment with a Cleveland Clinic doctor Monday.

“I’ve got a fever that’s coming and going. I’ve got chest tightness and a bit of a cough. It’s hard to breathe," she said. She is concerned about passing the virus to her family members that she shares a home with, especially her 53-year-old mother.

“I’m scared. My mom’s on oxygen and I’m really worried about passing this on to her,” Egts said.

After the clinic doctor approved the order for testing, she decided to get to the Landerbrook Health Center early Tuesday morning to beat the crowd. But Egts was surprised by many other cars already there at 7:30 a.m.

She sat in the line for five hours, inching slowly toward the testing center, but was greeted with bad news once she got close.

“I got to the front of the line and the officer who was directing traffic told me there was something wrong with the University Hospital system and the orders for the Cleveland Clinic patients’ weren’t going through the network,” she said.

Cleveland Clinic officials said there were IT issues that caused the glitch in the system for their patients. 

The problems were eventually resolved, but not before Egts drove several miles to the other drive-thru testing center near University Circle.

The testing site at the W.O. Walker Building parking garage in Cleveland had reached capacity by 1 pm around the time that Egts arrived.

Egts said she was told it was closed even though it was supposed be open until 7 p.m.

“The sites have not been shut down, rather, we are no longer adding cars to the line,” said Angie Kiska, a Clinic spokesperson, via email.

So Egts turned back and returned to her original location in Mayfield Heights after she learned the IT issues were resolved and Cleveland Clinic patients could now be tested with a doctor’s referral.

After her eight hour ordeal, Egts finally drove into a testing center.

“They put a swab alarmingly far up my nose and then I was free to go,” she said.

She was given some paperword stating results would be available in three to five days, and if she tests positive, the county health board will be notified.

In addition to the UH and Cleveland Clinic testing center, MetroHealth System is now offering testing with results available in two hours, hospital officials said in a news release.

 “Supplies are very limited, and testing at this time must be reserved for the hospitalized patients who are critically ill and those who have had direct contact with them,” said MetroHealth CEO and President Akram Boutros.

MetroHealth is working with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health to make testing more widely available, according to the release.

Marlene Harris-Taylor
Marlene is the director of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.