Officials hoped to test at least 50 first responders on the MHA Foundation’s first day of COVID-19 drive-thru testing Thursday.

They had that many in the first two hours.

The line thinned out at the LDS church, 913 S. Ponderosa St., in the afternoon with the occasional vehicle pulling through the parking lot. There were just five tests during the last half of the four-hour event, bringing the total to 55.

The MHA is providing the testing to first responders, support personnel and other front-line workers at no cost.

Testing continues for first responders and essential workers on Tuesday, May 12 and Wednesday, May 13 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

They will open the testing site to the general public Thursday, May 14 and Friday, May 15, with possible dates through the end of the month. Organizers ask that you reserve a time online at www.readygila.com.

“We don’t want 500 people in their cars sitting in line waiting to be tested,” said MHA President Kenny Evans.

They are not testing Saturday through Monday to avoid attracting crowds from the Valley and to help take pressure off the labs that analyze the samples.

Those who need or (eventually) want to be tested are asked to fill out paperwork then pull through one of three lanes depending on if they have the paperwork completed, have it but it’s not completed or don’t have any paperwork. You can fill out a form at www.readygila.com and request a test day and time. You may also download it, fill it out and bring it with you to save time at the site.

After the initial check-in, drivers are directed to pull up on either side of a lime green storage container where medical personnel take a test sample. Individuals’ insurance or the government CARES program will cover the doctor’s cost. The MHA Foundation will cover deductibles.

“No one is going to have to pay a bill,” Evans said.

Some 20 volunteers helped make sure the first day of the process went as smoothly as possible.

“We had a few bumps in the road,” Evans said. “But it’s a very comprehensive testing protocol.”

Results are emailed, texted or called in, depending on preference, within 24-48 hours.

The MHA hopes to begin antibody testing in about a week, but will announce plans for that testing when it becomes available.

The current test for the COVID-19 virus takes approximately two minutes to administer.

First, a volunteer takes a temperature reading and pulse rate. You blow your nose into a tissue and then a thin 10-centimeter swab is inserted into the nose for about four seconds. The swab can cause an intense burning sensation, resulting in watery eyes and sneezing. They need just the one sample for most people, but they’ll take a sample from each nostril for anyone with a known exposure to COVID-19.

“I still feel it here,” said Gila County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dennis Newman pointing inches below his left eye about 30 minutes after getting tested.

The testing is possible thanks to a partnership between the MHA and Banner Payson Medical Center, Ponderosa Family Care, Dr. Alan Michels, Dr. Judith Hunt and Ponderosa Family Care staff and the Gila County Health and Emergency Management with support from the Northern Gila County Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.), Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, the GCSO, Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) volunteers and the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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