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Drive-thru COVID-19 test clinic to travel Tri-Lakes

A line of cars forms in the parking lot of Saranac Lake High School Tuesday, May 12 for a mobile testing clinic by Adirondack Health, open to employees of the Saranac Lake Central School District. (Provided photo — Diane Chase)

Adirondack Health is rolling out a drive-thru coronavirus testing program in the Tri-Lakes this week, where anyone who qualifies can show up and get a free swab and blood test.

Using a repurposed dental van, the health care organization ran a pilot version of the service last week, testing 99 people at the Saranac Lake High School Tuesday, 160 people at the North Elba Show Grounds Wednesday and around 100 people at Tupper Lake’s L.P. Quinn Elementary School Thursday.

Adirondack Health Communications Director Matt Scollin said the goal is to have the drive-thru clinic set up in one of the Tri-Lakes towns for a couple of hours, every day, Monday through Friday.

Dates, time and locations for upcoming mobile clinics for this week are expected to be released soon.

Scollin said the pilot clinic was set up with school superintendents because they have big contact lists, but that they were open to all members of the public who met criteria set by the state Department of Health and allowed Adirondack Health to learn how to conduct tests “on the fly.”

Testing for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus was expanded Sunday to include individuals who will return to the workplace in Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan. The test has already been available to those ordered by doctors to get tested and any worker deemed “essential” by the state, as well as health care workers, those whom the Franklin or Essex County health departments request be tested, prison inmates and corrections officers, nursing home residents and staff, hospital inpatients, and anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or has had contact with a person known to be positive with COVID-19.

The swab tests are diagnostic and can show if someone has COVID-19 at the time of the test.

Clint Hollinsworth, a Tupper Lake village Trustee and contractor, got tested at the L.P. Quinn clinic Thursday. He described the procedure, which involves a long swab being inserted through the nose into the cavity between the nose and mouth, as being “fairly unpleasant.”

Still, he said it was worth it.

“Hey, you know, it’s one, two seconds out of my life to be uncomfortable; but it’s a lot better for peace of mind,” Hollingsworth said.

He said he also got his blood drawn to test for antibodies, which Scollin said most visitors at the clinics have also chosen to get.

The results of the blood test, or the coronavirus antibody test, only indicate if a person has been infected with the novel coronavirus at some point, not if they have COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“We don’t quite know yet what the anitbodies truly mean,” Scollin said, but said they are trying to get a baseline metric of how prevalent they are in the Tri-Lakes area.

Scollin said calling ahead to the hospital before arriving for a test — at 518-897-2462 — will allow it time to collect insurance information and necessary signatures in advance.

“We absolutely prefer appointments and it will speed everything up and ensure we can process more people,” Scollin said. “We can give you a better defined time to arrive when mobile clinic is out there testing.”

At the mobile clinics, the hospital is now running two lines — one for people with appointments and one for those who arrive without appointments. Scollin said hospital staff are prioritizing those with appointments.

“Appointments are increasingly being required because the interest is so strong,” Scollin said.

Scollin said Adirondack Health bills patients’ insurance companies when possible — New York State has barred insurance companies from charging people for getting tested for COVID-19 –but will also always test uninsured patients and attempt to bill the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. It’s unclear at this point whether the hospital will ultimately get reimbursed for those tests.

He said billing HRSA brings in less money than billing private insurance companies.

Scollin added that there will be no out of pocket costs for people who get tested, because of state regulation prohibiting insurance companies from charging co-pays and deductibles for COVID-19 testing.

Those without health insurance can apply for it during a special enrollment period through nystateofhealth.ny.gov through June 15.

In the last few weeks, the total number of processed COVID-19 tests from Franklin and Essex counties skyrocketed as testing materials became more accessible to local hospitals.

The process of scaling up testing was aided by mass deliveries of supplies to local hospitals, from a variety of places. Franklin County Public Health received 1,080 test kits from the state, and Elizabethtown Community Hospital received at least 75. Adirondack Health’s testing capabilities were significantly bolstered by a delivery of 2,000 vials of chemical reagents from Trudeau Institute, as well as test materials from the state.

Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO James McKenna, who was selected to serve on the North Country region’s “control board,” said during a Zoom meeting hosted by the town of Keene last week that the state had sent the seven-county region 9,000 COVID-19 test kits that week, and another 9,000 test kits were expected to arrive this week.

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