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The state is now opening 18 new drive-up coronavirus testing sites in places as far abreast as South Portland and Presque Isle as part of a previously announced expansion to the state’s overall ability to detect the disease.
Seven organizations have partnered with the state to run those federally funded sites, some of which have already opened. The rest are expected to open in the next two weeks, complementing approximately 40 other testing sites that have already been operating around the state, the Mills administration announced Tuesday.
At the satellite sites, workers will use nasal swabs to collect samples from patients, then send those samples directly to a new mobile state laboratory that’s based in Augusta. Those efforts are part of a broader expansion of the state’s COVID-19 testing ability that was announced last month and that’s being done in partnership with IDEXX Laboratories.
Although Maine has been outperforming many states in testing for and containing the virus, the new “swab-and-send” sites will keep improving its ability to recognize and contain new outbreaks, according to Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
That new capacity will be critical as commercial laboratories become inundated with samples from other parts of the country that have seen skyrocketing cases in the past few weeks, Lambrew said.
“Creating Maine-based testing capacity is especially important as national laboratories struggle to handle other states’ surge of COVID-19 cases,” Lambrew said. “It prevents the Maine state lab from experiencing the shortages of testing supplies and reagents that occurred early in the pandemic. We thank these health care organizations for partnering with us to continue to protect the health of Maine people and visitors.”
For now, the state is not loosening its current criteria for who can qualify to be tested for the virus under a standing order. That generally includes people who think they may have COVID-19 or been exposed to the virus, or higher-risk groups such as health care and hospitality workers, people of color, those who have participated in large gatherings and visitors from other states with higher infection rates.
The new “swab and send” testing sites will be available free-of-charge to those who qualify under the standing order, but most of them may require an appointment, according to DHHS. They are opening in communities throughout Maine, including Bangor, Brewer, Augusta, Belfast, Ellsworth, Blue Hill, Bar Harbor, Calais, Portland, South Portland, Pittsfield, Waterville, Greenville, Dover-Foxcroft, Fort Kent and Presque Isle.
Most of them will be operated by hospitals and health care organizations in those communities, but one of the sites will be run by Promerica Health, a Falmouth-based company that can deploy mobile health vehicles to underserved areas, according to Maine DHHS. The state is working to add more of those locations and will list them at Get-Tested-COVID19.org.
In conjunction with the addition of a new mobile state lab in Augusta and the purchase of new testing materials from IDEXX Laboratories, the new testing sites are expected to help Maine quadruple its current testing capacity in the coming weeks, according to DHHS. The state’s public and private labs conducted nearly 45,000 tests in June, after doing 37,000 in May.
It has set up the new sites with a $52.7 million federal grant.
The state also has recruited a total of 86 people — staff and volunteers — to trace the contacts of people who test positive for the disease so that they can undergo a quarantine, according to a spokesperson for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.