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Testing expanded for COVID-19

The CDC's COVID-19 diagnostic panel (Provided photo — U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

SARANAC LAKE — Local hospitals and clinics are gradually opening COVID-19 testing to more groups of people.

While local hospitals have restricted testing to specific criteria, Mountain Medical Urgent Care — which has offices in Saranac Lake, Massena and Malone — is testing “pretty much anybody,” Medical Director Dr. Michael Pond said Friday.

“We’ve got plenty of tests, and we’re kind of in full swing,” Pond said. “We’re trying to test anybody that has had exposure, anybody that’s worried about it. We’re pretty much testing anybody.”

Adirondack Health, based in Saranac Lake, announced Friday that testing for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus will now be 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, and hospital inpatients.

Elizabethtown Community Hospital announced last week that thanks to a new shipment of testing kits from the state, a by-appointment COVID-19 testing service would be available at its Elizabethtown and Ticonderoga campuses for people with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, those with exposure to a suspected or confirmed case, and those whose return to work depends on a negative test result.

The expanded testing eligibility comes after the state Department of Health issued new guidance for hospitals on Sunday, April 26. The new guidance authorizes testing for those with COVID-19 symptoms, those who have come in close contact with a person who has a confirmed case of COVID-19, anyone who is ordered into precautionary or mandatory quarantine by a county department of health, health care workers, first responders and essential workers, as well as those who doctors order to be tested.

Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone is testing by these criteria, according to spokesman Phillip Rau.

Since mid-March, most local hospitals restricted testing to health care workers and inpatients, citing a lack of testing materials such as swabs and chemicals, plus concerns that supplies would be difficult to restock.

Those with symptoms of COVID-19 or those who suspect they’ve been exposed to the novel coronavirus can call the Franklin County COVID-19 hotline at 518-481-1111, call the state Department of Health hotline at 1-888-364-3065 or visit your local hospital’s website for more information.

Tests available

Mountain Medical is usually a walk-in care center, but the office doors are currently locked and doctors are mostly helping out patients over the phone. Pond said anyone who suspects that they’ve been exposed to the coronavirus can speak with a doctor to see if they’re likely to have been exposed, and can schedule an appointment for a test by calling one of the Mountain Medical offices: 518-897-1000 in Saranac Lake and 518-523-7575 in Lake Placid. More information is available at mountainmedical.net.

Mountain Medical has the material available to conduct diagnostic tests for COVID-19, which can help diagnose people who are currently sick with COVID-19. The facility also has antibody tests available. Antibody tests are blood tests, and they can show who has been previously infected with the novel coronavirus, whether they got sick from it or not. They don’t show who is currently infected.

Because this strain of coronavirus is so new, not all of the tests being used to evaluate if a person has been infected with it are approved by the Federal Drug Administration yet, according to Pond. The newness of the virus also means constantly evolving health guidelines and suggestions.

Symptoms can vary, and the symptoms that were widely publicized when the pandemic reached the United States — such as a dry cough and difficulty breathing — are among a list of other symptoms that people with COVID-19 have since presented with. The most up-to-date information is available at cdc.gov.

Testing is factor to reopen

As state and federal officials piece together a plan to reopen the economy in parts of New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said increasing the state’s testing capacity will be key. Cuomo has called on the federal government to take over sourcing testing materials for states from overseas, which he says will cut down on state-by-state competition and allow resources to be better allocated to harder-hit areas. At the same time, the state has been contracting with local labs and ramping up its testing capacity, and this past Saturday, Cuomo issued an executive order allowing pharmacists to order or perform diagnostic or antibody testing.

As of Friday, more than 700 people had been tested for COVID-19 in Essex and Franklin counties combined.

Statewide, more than 927,400 people had been tested. Of those, more than 308,300 tested positive, and more than 18,600 have died.

More than 3.1 million people had tested positive for COVID-19 across the world as of Friday, including more than 1 million in the United States alone, according to the World Health Organization.

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