VANCOUVER -- Select patients who have been referred for COVID-19 testing can now use a drive-thru testing site that's been set up in Burnaby's Central Park.

The site is designed to protect health workers and patients alike from being exposed to the virus, which has already killed 39 people in B.C. and put more than 150 in hospital.

Dr. Lindsay McCaffrey said there have been about 30 cars passing through daily since the site opened up last week, and that they anticipate an increase in visitors as word of mouth spreads.

People who believe they have the novel coronavirus are not allowed to just show up and demand a test, however. They must be referred by a health-care professional, and either live in Burnaby or get referred by someone who works in Burnaby.

"We want to make sure people who show up here meet the criteria for testing," McCaffrey said. "We understand everyone who has mild symptoms, they want a test, they want to know, but we have to follow the (B.C. Centre for Disease Control) criteria for testing."

There is a website where people can fill out a questionnaire to help them determine if they might be eligible for a test. Health-care workers are fast-tracked because they're among the groups that officials want to monitor closely, in order to prevent further outbreaks at hospitals, seniors' homes and other health-care facilities.

Dr. McCaffrey said the same site in Central Park also offers in-person doctor's appointments for people who have mild COVID-19 symptoms or are in self-isolation due to possible exposure to the virus.

"A person who's self-isolating because of COVID-19 symptoms or exposure but they have other primary care needs that need an in-person assessment, like abdominal pain, we're here to provide that in a safe environment," she said.

That safety is largely due to the intense cleaning protocols in place. The site currently has three exam rooms, which are cleaned, sanitized and aired out between patients – something most doctor's offices can't reliably promise.

But Dr. McCaffrey stressed that people should not feel shy about reaching out to their family doctor for their health-care needs during the pandemic.

"The volumes in family doctor's offices are down – people are afraid to come in, they feel their family doctor is already burdened and really busy with COVID-19," she said. "We don't want them to put their health on hold. Primary care issues still need to be seen, still need to be addressed."

Patients can always speak to a doctor via phone or video chat, and McCaffrey said those who are at low-risk of having caught COVID-19 can also arrange for an in-person appointment at their regular doctor's office.

Those who are at higher risk of having contracted COVID-19 can instead visit the site in Central Park.