PITTSFIELD — The testers' first client gave her name, leaned her head back — and up her nostril went a cotton swab.
Her colleagues at a group home on Stonehenge Road, operated by Berkshire Family and Individual Resources, were giddy with gritted teeth as they awaited her reaction. She coughed as the swab reached deep into her nasal cavity. Her eyes turned red and watery.
"It really wasn't that bad," she said, smiling and standing up to reach for a tissue.
Matt Donahue, a fellow staffer, offered stronger words.
"That was God awful," he said, taking a quick pace around the room and scrunching up his nostrils, as if to purge the sensation.
Testing at the home was one of about 300 home-based exams conducted in the Berkshires on Tuesday alone by County Ambulance. The mobile testing initiative shows how much testing has evolved over the past month.
Brian Andrews, president of County Ambulance, said the program caters to people in the community who can't easily or safely get to a drive-thru testing facility behind Berkshire Medical Center, as well as to group homes with vulnerable residents.
Meantime, demand for testing at the BMC testing drive-thru facility has slowed, according to Michael Leary, media relations director for Berkshire Health Systems. On-site lab analysis has begun at the hospital, he said, but because of shortages in supplies, he said, the faster-turnaround service is reserved for those who need to be admitted for treatment.
With more kits, he said, the hospital aims to increase that capacity.
"The turnaround time for those tests is normally under an hour, which is very helpful," he said. "Drive-thru testing is being sent to the Quest lab, which has an average turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours."
Many people want to be tested, but doctors point out that there are many viruses that could cause the symptoms people might be feeling.
Dr. John Dallenbach, a Pittsfield pediatrician whose office has conducted a small number of tests for children, says that, more often, the children have rhino/enterovirus or metapneumovirus; "That's another bad actor."
"It's not all COVID-19," he said. "It's just one of the many players."
On Stonehenge Road, County Ambulance's testing crew donned blue paper gowns, two sets of gloves, N95 masks, goggles and face shields. After each person was tested, they changed out the outermost set of gloves in exchange for a fresh pair.
"This is what takes the longest," said Mindee Hodgkins, an emergency medical tech, as she slowly pulled rubbery layer over rubbery layer.
One member of the team does the swabbing while another stands ready with an open vial and cap to hold the swab.
Each sample drops into its own sealed plastic bag, which is then shipped to Quest Labs.
Andrews said the initiative grew quickly after it began this month, and his Pittsfield-based crews now venture all over Western Massachusetts, under a collaboration with Fallon Ambulance and Transformative Healthcare.
He developed a team of 18 staffers to perform the home-based testing, which they normally book in spurts, conducting hundreds of tests in a single day.
"They've really got it down to a science," Andrews said, noting that the crews were scheduled to convene at Melbourne Place later in the day to test about 200 people.
The testing also keeps his team busy, given that ambulance calls have declined 60 percent since the outbreak, he said. "Which concerns me."
As the coronavirus spreads, he said, so many people are afraid to go to a hospital that they defer needed medical attention.
"I think there's people passing away that should not," he said.
Amanda Drane can be contacted at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-464-2859.