Immediate Care, the Red Bank-based operator of eight urgent care centers in four counties, is transforming unused shipping containers into mobile COVID-19 testing facilities.

The first such center opened in East Windsor during the week of Dec. 14 and three more followed in Middletown, Marlboro and Old Bridge. The East Windsor center sits in the parking lot of a shopping center that includes an Immediate Care outlet; the others are freestanding locations.

“The idea for these mobile testing centers came back in the spring, when we first began dealing with COVID-19 at Immediate Care,” CEO Sal Cannizzaro said in a statement. “It was traditionally a time for flu season. But the symptoms between the flu and COVID could be the same, and we obviously couldn’t let people into the clinics if we suspected they were infected by COVID.”

Patients suspected of having COVID-19 are sent to one of the mobile testing sites for nasal and saliva tests. “If the tests are negative, then we can accommodate them at Immediate Care,” Cannizzaro said. “It is an effective way to keep our patients safe, while serving the incredible ongoing demand for COVID testing.”

The containers, which Cannizzaro said come from distribution centers in Woodbridge, Chicago and Baytown, Texas, are 20 feet long and eight feet wide. Each is divided into four testing rooms. The containers are delivered by flatbed trucks, are powered by generators and can be retrofitted for testing in a matter days, according to Immediate Care.

“We can make these as step-down, critical-care units by connecting the containers or using larger ones,” Cannizzaro said. “The customizing is really endless. We paint them. We insulate them. We bring electricity and water to them. We panel the entire interior and ceiling with high gloss, vinyl, medical-grade washable panels and cover the floors with epoxy. We install HVAC systems and negative air pressure with exhaust fans. By the time we are done, patients have no idea they are sitting in a former shipping container.”

The containers can also be used to administer COVID-19 vaccines when the shots begin to be distributed widely, Cannizzaro said. He added that leasing agent R.J. Brunelli & Co. is helping the company secure more locations.

“Right now, we are working with six more municipalities as we try to keep up with the demand,” Cannizzaro said. “Once the stimulus package is approved by Congress, and much more testing and vaccination can occur, there will be an immediate and ongoing need for more and more of these mobile sites into 2022. We will be ready.”

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