Drive-thru COVID-19 testing begins at Essentia Health clinic in Baxter

Essentia Health St. Joseph's Baxter Clinic Registered Nurse Jessica Schwartz talks to a patient in the COVID-19 drive-thru clinic Monday, March 23, in the clinic's parking lot. Patients are required to complete an e-visit before coming for a test. A doctor will issue an order which is presented at the tent. Testing began Monday and will continue indefinitely. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Essentia Health in Baxter began drive-thru COVID-19 testing Monday, March 23.

Nine patients received the test Monday without having to get out of their cars.

“It’s worked well so far,” registered nurse Jessica Schwartz said Monday afternoon.

Before being allowed to get the drive-thru test, patients must schedule an e-visit through Essentia Health.

The provider will look for specific symptoms, like shortness of breath, fever and cough, and ask about exposure to COVID-19 or recent travel history.


If the provider recommends a COVID-19 test, that patient’s name will go into an electronic registry. When that person comes to the Baxter clinic, they can drive up to the tent in the parking lot, where a registration person will come out and ask for their name to check it against the registry. After verifying the patient, a nurse will come out to do the test while the patient remains in their car with the window down.

“They just pull forward, and then we get them tested, and then they just pull away,” Schwartz said.

Each patient’s test will first be sent in for a respiratory panel to rule out any other illnesses, like flu, respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, or another known strain of the coronavirus, which Schwartz said has been tested for her whole nursing career.

If any of those tests come back positive, the patient likely does not have COVID-19. If the respiratory panel comes back negative, then the test will be sent to the Minnesota Department of Health to be tested for the novel coronavirus, which usually takes about three to five days.

Essentia Health St. Joe's Baxter Clinic Registered Nurse Jessica Schwartz talks Monday, March 23, about the procedure patients follow as they enter the tent to be tested. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“Everybody who comes through this line, I am telling them, ‘You need to be quarantined for at least seven days because now you’re at a point where you’re displaying symptoms. So most likely the people who’ve seen in the last two weeks, you’ve exposed if you are positive,’” Schwartz said, noting the patients who come for a drive-thru test are already experiencing symptoms, like a fever or a dry cough.


Right now, Schwartz said the Baxter clinic has a sufficient amount of COVID-19 test kits. Essentia Health Marketing Manager Kathy Sell said the clinic is also doing well with other supplies, like masks, but the future is still uncertain. If anyone has a desire to donate personal protective equipment, including homemade masks, they can do so at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd. Sell said people can drive up to the front door, where an employee will come out and collect the donations.

“If there are any other industries that use the N95 mask that we hear so much about right now, and they’re not using them and feel compelled to bring them in, we will certainly graciously accept any of the help we get,” Sell said.

Virtual visits

Essentia Health patients who have regularly scheduled appointments are encouraged to consider virtual visits, which can be done with a phone or a computer with the Zoom app or website. With virtual visits, patients do not have to visit a clinic but can still consult with their provider to get a medication refilled or fulfill other needs.

Patients can schedule an e-visit by calling their provider or logging into their Essentia MyHealth account.

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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