How do you get a COVID test if you don’t have a car?

COVID testing sign with red arrow
Photo via Chris Yarzab/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: July 19, 2021

Many of the COVID-19 tests across the globe are performed at drive-thru testing centers. This presents a massive obstacle for those without vehicles, prompting the question of how people can obtain a COVID test without a car.

Drive-thru testing sites allow for individuals or groups to drive to a testing clinic and wait in their car, eliminating the risk of spreading the virus to other groups. Testing location employees then approach the vehicle, assist patients as they fill out paperwork, and perform the tests. People with vehicles never need to leave their cars.

For those without cars, however, the question of how to get tested is far more challenging. There is not only the issue of where do you go—many drive-thru testing sites only offer service to those with vehicles—but also how to get there. Without a car, many people are left with few options to reach their closest COVID testing site.

These issues are slightly less persistent in countries outside of the U.S., where public transportation is often more accessible. There also tends to be an expectation that all Americans have access to vehicles. It’s simply not true. Advice that people should merely find someone to drive them doesn’t apply to a broad swathe of America, many of whom live in poverty or who don’t have easy access to anyone with reliable transport.

These people are left with no option but to take public transportation. When also harboring concerns that they may have contracted COVID-19, boarding a crowded bus with little opportunity to maintain distance is dangerous. The same applies to subways.

Taxis and Ubers are a safer option but are too expensive for many people to reasonably consider. And not every American has access to a phone, which is necessary to obtain a ride-sharing option like Uber or Lyft. Some Ubers and taxis have also refused service to customers seeking a COVID-19 test, out of fear they may expose themselves to the virus. 

Plus, if you live in a rural area and you’re an undocumented worker, the options are even more limited.

There is, of course, also the option to walk when testing sites are close enough. For people experiencing symptoms, however, this option is a dangerous one. Walking any distance while short of breath can be a challenge, and doing so while potentially ill with COVID-19 could result in a worsened case of the illness.

There is also the hurdle of how to get tested once at a site. The vast majority of testing sites are set up exclusively for drive-thru testing, which doesn’t allow for walk-up visitors. Some drive-thru testing sites allow patients on foot to walk through the drive-thru line (or if they’ve come from public transportation), but many do not. And some have found it difficult to navigate a website to set up a COVID test that doesn’t require the person to be in their vehicle.

If you’re an undocumented worker without a driver’s license, that adds even more complications.

A few cities and states have recognized this problem and taken steps to address it. In Illinois, numerous sites offer walk-up and bike-up testing, which appears to operate similarly to drive-thru testing. Some hospitals and doctors’ offices, and even a few airports, are accepting appointments for walk-in testing.

Los Angeles created a testing site specifically for walk-up testing to ensure that its unhoused population, along with those in public housing or without easy access to COVID information, still have access to tests. A decline in overall tests in California is worrying officials, though, especially as coronavirus variants continue to spread in the U.S., including the delta variant that was first discovered in India.

This issue, though, is on people’s minds. “I’m also a blind person, so making sure that people with disabilities have equitable access, to all of our city’s services including testing, is of the utmost importance for me personally, as well as professionally,” Gabe Casarez, with the Houston mayor’s office for People with Disabilities, told Click2Houston.

Read more on the coronavirus vaccines:

Sources: NBC4, Streets Blog Chicago, Kids Health

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