The Road to Testing

The Road to Testing

Maryland transforms emissions testing stations into COVID-19 testing sites

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In an effort to make COVID-19 testing easier for the citizens of Maryland, which currently has more than 60,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, drive-through Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program stations (VEIPs) have been converted into drive-through COVID-19 testing sites.

But the transformation wasn’t seamless.

The undertaking, which was the brainchild of Gov. Larry Hogan, involved numerous stakeholders, including the Maryland Department of Health (MDH), the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), Maryland National Guard, Maryland State Police, local health departments and private partners.

“While we quickly embraced Gov. Hogan’s idea—and worked fast to figure out the necessary changes we’d need to make to carry out this transformation—every county within the state is different,” says Chrissy Nizer, administrator, Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA). “We had to make the necessary modifications to make it work for everyone involved and also work for our facilities.”

Most VEIPs are well-suited physically for this kind of drive-through testing, where individuals can pull their vehicles right in and be serviced, but there were many other considerations. One of the biggest challenges: reworking traffic patterns around the sites to avoid backups and jams. “We worked with a lot of the businesses surrounding our VEIP locations to create plans that would ease the traffic flow,” Nizer says. “We used neighbors’ parking lots for staff and volunteer parking, even putting traffic flow through those lots to avoid street backups.”

The safety of everyone at the facility was a top priority.

“We worked with the Maryland Department of Transportation to develop a circulation plan for each site to ensure we appropriately vetted everyone before they got into the facility where the tests would be done,” Nizer says. “We needed to make sure all safety measures were put in place.”

While COVID-19 testing at VEIP sites is open to the public, walk-ins are not accepted. To qualify for a drive-through test, individuals must:

  • Meet testing criteria as determined by a licensed healthcare provider.
  • Obtain an order for testing from a healthcare provider.
  • Register online and make an appointment at a test site.
  • Provide proof of identification: photo identification/driver’s license, United States passport or Social Security card.

Variable messaging boards are posted at VEIP locations and entryways to let people know COVID-19 testing is happening—and not emissions testing. “What’s interesting is that we’re still seeing people show up at those sites for their emissions tests,” Nizer adds. “So you could say our customers are very dedicated to emissions testing even in this emergency time.”

Emissions tests are being rescheduled up to 12 months out, although Maryland offers 24-hour kiosks for self-service testing.

Currently there are 10 VEIP-turned-COVID-19 testing locations across the state. And despite a 20-year career with the state, including 14 years in motor vehicle administration and a stint with Homeland Security, Nizer says nothing could have prepared her for this new reality. “I’ve dealt with challenges in the past, like natural disasters, but certainly nothing of this magnitude where every single state is affected,” she says.

Despite the challenges the country is facing, there is a silver lining. “Everyone has really pulled together to help with this effort,” Nizer says. “I’ve been amazed at the number of individuals who have offered to assist us and have been very gracious about opening up their site for parking or allowing traffic to move through their facilities. It demonstrates that the community and everyone involved is really looking out for that greater good.”

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