After 1 year and 1 month, West Ashley specimen collection site closes

April 16, 2021
workers carry long metal poles toward an open box truck
Crews dismantle the drive-through COVID-19 specimen collection site in West Ashley. With dwindling demand for testing, it no longer makes sense to maintain this site. MUSC Health continues to offer testing at other sites. Photo by Leslie Cantu

After serving as many as 1,000 people per day, MUSC Health’s West Ashley drive-through COVID specimen collection site is closed for business.

It’s a sign of how the pandemic has evolved. When the site opened in March 2020, Ambulatory environmental health and safety and emergency manager Erik Modrzynski said, they didn’t know how long it would be needed, how many patients it would serve or even what the hours should be to meet demand.

MUSC Health was the first in the nation to combine a virtual screening appointment with a drive-through testing site. Keeping potential COVID patients outside of hospital and clinic buildings, where they could potentially infect staff members and other patients, was a priority.

Just a few months before, MUSC Health had opened the West Ashley Medical Pavilion within Citadel Mall. In March 2020, with the health system in need of a large outdoor site easily accessible from the interstate and major roads, mall owners Richard and Ginger Davis graciously agreed to allow MUSC Health to set up the drive-through testing site in the mall parking lot for an indefinite period.

Aerial image of fenced-off respiratory specimen collection site 
An aerial view of the West Ashley specimen collection site when it first opened in March 2020. Photo by Bryce Donovan

For the next year, nurses and techs worked, swathed in personal protective equipment, in the sweltering Charleston summer, with the blacktop radiating heat back up at them; in the rain, unless there was lightning, in which case they hurriedly packed up; and in the cold.

MUSC Health leaders also realized that setting up a single testing site wasn’t enough to serve the community. In April 2020, they opened a pop-up testing site in Columbia, offering both walk-up and drive-through services, followed by one in Sumter during the first week of May 2020.

Soon MUSC Health was offering pop-up testing across the state. As of April 12, 2021, MUSC Health had performed more than 390,000 tests statewide.

workers on ladders begin to untie the straps on a large tent in a parking lot 
One of the drive-through testing pods is disassembled on April 13. Photo by Leslie Cantu 

Even as that testing was expanding, Modrzynski was working behind the scenes, along with collaborators from Clemson University, to develop portable testing pods that could be placed in smaller locations and would keep team members shielded from the virus as well as the worst of the weather.

Those pods are now in use at a vaccination and testing site in North Charleston, at 2401 Mall Drive.

The Mall Drive site is better suited to current demand. With testing down to a couple of hundred people per day, it didn’t make sense to maintain the expensive West Ashley site.

health car workers await next to portable testing pods under a tent 
MUSC College of Nursing students are gaining clinical experience by performing COVID-19 specimen collection, under supervision, at the walk-up testing site in North Charleston. Photo by Sarah Pack

On April 13, crews were dismantling the site, reclaiming their tents and trailers to be rented out to the next customer. Belfor project manager Donald Ivy said the various companies involved had two weeks to finish, but he expected cleanup to move much quicker. After that, the blacktop will be repaired and the parking lines repainted, he said.

For Modrzynski, the testing site is a point of pride: Physical proof that no matter what, the people at MUSC Health are committed to working to get the job done for patients.