An El Paso Walmart is using drones to deliver COVID-19 test kits as the city struggles with overflowing hospitals and people dying faster than the medical examiner can handle

  • Walmart is trialling COVID-19 test kit deliveries by drone in El Paso, Texas.
  • El Paso currently has one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the US.
  • The city has been on lockdown since the end of October, with hospitals over capacity and morgues running out of room. 
  • The program launched Tuesday, and is available for people who live in single-family homes within a mile and a half of a participating Walmart store in East El Paso.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As El Paso, Texas, struggles to fight one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the US, a Walmart in the city is testing a program to deliver free testing kits by drone. 

The program — a partnership between Walmart, the Quest Diagnostics lab, and DroneUp — launched Tuesday. Currently, anyone who qualifies for a test and lives in a single-family home within a mile and a half of a participating Walmart store in East El Paso can have one delivered for free by drone, according to KFOX 14.

According to the outlet, the testing kit includes a self-administered nasal swab, and after collecting a sample, people can simply post the sample in a prepaid envelope and await the results online. 

El Paso has been under a stay-at-home order since October 29, when area hospitals started running out of room due to an influx of COVID-19 patients. El Paso county has emerged as a hot spot of the coronavirus as the US battles its third spike of the pandemic.

Patients have also been dying at a rate that medical examiners have been struggling to keep up with.

The county recently doubled its capacity of mobile morgue units — which are essentially refrigerated trucks — and inmates are being paid $2 an hour to help move the bodies. 

In a video posted last week, a travel nurse at the University Medical Center of El Paso also said the hospital's sickest COVID-19 patients were put in a "pit" that doctors didn't enter for fear of exposing themselves to the virus.

The stay-at-home order was due to expire last week, but was extended because the hospitals are still over-burdened. The order will remain in place until December 1.

Mayor Dee Margo of El Paso was at the Walmart in East El Paso on Tuesday as the program launched. 

"To be the third community in the country to have this is phenomenal. It's a reflection on who we are and our region in the state of Texas and in the nation," Margo said, according to KFOX.

Margo previously told Business Insider he was struggling to "walk that tightwire" between public health and keeping the local economy alive.

It's unclear whether the drone program will be opened up to a wider area of the city, which as of Tuesday was reporting more than 34,000 active cases and 782 deaths, according to government data.

Dan Haemmerle, general manager of extended care for Quest Diagnostics, said in a statement to KFOX 14 that the pilot program will "examine how drones [can] deliver health care to patients who are unable to leave their home, or live in remote locations."


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