Read or hear the term drive-through and the mind conjures images of bank deposits, prescription pick-ups and late-night burgers eaten too quickly. Over the last month, those customary visuals have been joined by an odd addition that juxtaposes comfort, anxiety and reassurance: The sight of people getting tested for the coronavirus while seated in their cars.

Meeting the twin goals of increased testing and proper precaution, hospitals and medical facilities throughout Connecticut and other states have opened drive-through testing sites for the coronavirus (or COVID-19). Wearing masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE), medical staff administer the tests from outside a person’s vehicle.

“The COVID-19 test involves the collection of a nasopharyngeal sample that is obtained by passing a special swab, similar to a Q-tip, into the nose,” said Dr. Jeannie M. Kenkare. “That procedure takes literally seconds to collect.”

Dr. Kenkare is the chief medical officer and co-founder of PhysicianOne Urgent Care, which has 16 offices in Connecticut, including one at 10 South Street in Ridgefield. PhysicianOne began conducting drive-through COVID-19 testing in Ridgefield and its other locations last month. Patients are encouraged to undergo a preliminary video or telephone evaluation to determine if testing is needed based on their symptoms.

As part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, FDA-approved testing (including drive-through) is free — the legislation requires private and federal insurance to pay, with no cost-sharing.

“Now that we have expanded testing capabilities we can test 35-40 patients per day at each of our sites,” Dr. Kenkare said. “So far, across all of our sites, we have tested almost 2,000 patients and have seen about 22-25% positive.”

PhysicianOne, which is affiliated with the Yale New Haven Health system and the Tufts Medical Center, did not provide separate statistics for testing at its Ridgefield office.

The test itself is straightforward: After being pre-evaluated and given an appointment, people drive to the location, show their confirmation and driver’s license, and then proceed to a spot where they are asked to slightly open the window for the nose swab, conducted while they are facing forward. The sample is then packaged and sent to a lab for analysis.

“We have been receiving results in as fast as 24 hours and up [to] five days, but on average we are seeing results by three days,” Dr. Kenkare said.

Although the preliminary evaluation is recommended, people who don’t have an appointment are not automatically turned away.

“If a patient arrives at one of our centers with COVID-19 symptoms, they are instructed to call the center and wait in their car to be seen,” Dr. Kenkare said. “A member of our team will then safely perform a car-side evaluation and determine if COVID-19 testing is warranted based on symptoms and exposure risk.”

According to Dr. Kenkare, physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners usually conduct the drive-through tests, which are offered daily from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (including weekends). “However, when we have high volume test days, our medical assistants, who are also skilled and trained in this procedure, are also collecting the samples,” she said.

In addition to giving the COVID-19 test, the PhysicianOne staff can administer a more comprehensive examination.

“If necessary, based on our evaluation of the patient via our telephone or video encounter, we will also perform other evaluations of the patient, including obtaining temperature, oxygen saturation, heart rate and respiratory rates to help evaluate the patient further,” Dr. Kenkare said. “[We can also] perform an examination of the patient as indicated, including listening to the heart and lungs, examining the throat, and checking for lymph node swelling.”

Drive-through testing is a way to simultaneously protect patients and health-care workers, Dr. Kenkare said.

“We have strict protocols to safely evaluate COVID-19 positive patients, which is why we see these patients at the car-side,” she said. “It helps to protect both our employees and our other patients who might be coming in [to the office] for non-COVID related issues.

“When we suspect someone has COVID or are testing them for COVID, we instruct them on strict isolation precautions so that they don’t spread the illness to others while awaiting their results,” Dr. Kenkare added. “When we get a positive result, we personally contact the patient and inform them of the result, check on their condition and reiterate the importance of the isolation precautions, which we suggest remain in place for 14 days from the onset of symptoms.”