Editor's Note: This article was updated with comments from Kroger's Rodney McMullen, who appeared with other retailers late Monday at a White House press conference.
After recently launching new drive-thru test sites for coronavirus, The Kroger Co. has unveiled plans for further expansion of the program.
Kroger Health, the supermarket retailer’s health care arm, said late Monday that free drive-thru testing for COVID-19 will be rolled out to 50 locations in more than 12 states by the end of May. In that time frame, the Cincinnati-based company expects to have conducted up to 100,000 tests.
So far, Kroger Health said it has performed almost 8,000 tests in 30 locations in Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The company, too, has begun piloting site-specific testing for employees in Michigan and Colorado.
“As part of Kroger’s commitment to help America reopen safely, we are proud to help expand access to COVID-19 testing as a partner in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public-Private Testing Partnership,” Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen said in a statement.
Kroger’s announcement on expanded testing came as retail leaders, including McMullen, gathered at the White House late Monday in a press conference with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to give an update on their companies’ coronavirus testing efforts, as well as other initiatives. Attending the event were Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart; Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health; Richard Ashworth, president of Walgreens; and Heyward Donigan, CEO of Rite Aid.
“I am so proud of our nearly half-million associates that are doing everything, every day, to keep customers safe and our associates safe. And one of the things that we were able to do is provide the basic practices we’re doing. We call it ‘Blueprint,’ and it’s the things that all of us can learn from on how to get America back working,” McMullen said at the White House conference.
“We also announced earlier today that we are continuing to accelerate our practice on testing. We are actively engaged in six states,” he added. “In the next couple of weeks, we’ll take that to 12 states, and the number of tests that we do continues to grow faster than that. Together, we will win. Together, we will solve this problem and move on.”
Under Kroger's collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, HHS is providing access to test kits and laboratory services through eTrueNorth, and Kroger Health is supplying professional services with its team of nurse practitioners, pharmacists and technicians.
About 250 to 330 tests are performed daily by Kroger Health, using the HHS-recommended testing model. Kroger said its testing sites use anterior nares or mid-turbinate nasal swab tests, which are designed to increase safety. Patients remain in their cars during the tests, which are completed in just a few minutes using self-administered test kits. Test results are expected within about 48 hours.
“We cannot do this alone,” according to Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health. “We greatly appreciate the collaboration and partnership with HHS and eTrueNorth and federal, state and local health departments and authorities as we work together to not only offer and administer testing, but to build the infrastructure and support necessary to establish each site.”
Lindholz noted that a key enabler of the drive-thru testing expansion is pharmacists’ ability to order and administer testing. Earlier this month, HHS issued an order that empowers licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 tests authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
“I’m particularly energized by the opportunity for our pharmacists to take a lead role at testing sites through the expanded scope of practice,” she added. “This will enable tens of thousands of additional health care professionals to join the fight on the frontlines.”
Consumers can access Kroger Health’s free online screening tool at krogerhealth.com/covidtesting to determine if they need a coronavirus test and, if so, view available dates and locations to schedule one. The website is updated weekly as new testing sites are opened across the country.
In other COVID-19 news, Kroger on Sunday began requiring all store associates to wear masks, if they’re in locations where state and local authorities haven’t already mandated face coverings. Kroger spokeswoman Kristal Howard said in a email that the company has provided face masks for all store employees, who also can use their own mask or other face covering, as long as it’s suitable.
“We recognize that some associates, due to medical reasons or other circumstances, may not be able to wear a mask. Such situations will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. We are sourcing face shields to provide to those associates and will also explore other potential options, as needed,” Howard stated. “Additionally, we also encourage all our customers to wear a mask when they visit our stores or, alternatively, consider one of our e-commerce [shopping] options available at kroger.com.”