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COVID-19: More testing availability in Erie and Niagara counties

Tue, May 5th 2020 04:40 pm

Coronavirus testing is ramping up in Western New York.

Niagara County

In her weekday afternoon update Tuesday on LCTV, Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh said, “About a week ago, we reported to you that 2,171 Niagara County residents had been tested, according to the state health department tracker. Today, that number stands at 3,554, which means we've done 1,400 tests in just this past week.”

She noted, “We know that the NCCC testing site being run by the state has been open for about a week now. The county health department is doing drive-thru clinics on Wednesdays for first responders, and generally there have been more test kits coming to the area, for nursing homes and doctor's offices, than we've seen previously.

“Clearly, a lot more testing is going to mean a lot more positive cases – that's to be expected. But the good news is we're seeing that the percentage of tests that are being done that are coming back with positive results has fallen to about 13%. Not that long ago, we were hovering about a 20% positive rate as we received those results back. So, the fact that our rate is dropping from 20% to about 13% is good news.

“We are doing more tests; we're going to hear about more positive cases; but that rate of positive cases does appear to be slowing. So, this is definitely significant progress from where we have been in the past – and frankly quite necessary. It's a necessary component as we look at reopening. The governor talks about his reopening plan and the benchmarks that we'll have to hit, and we have to have good data to make these good decisions. So, the fact that we're testing will help a lot more.

Image courtesy of the Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

“The governor has seven data benchmarks that a region must hit, to be able to un-‘PAUSE.’ And when he showed us this data yesterday, we saw that our region, Western New York, is only hitting three of those criteria at this point. One of those is that we have to have 30 tests for every 1,000 residents. So, our testing ability has expanded, and hopefully we can get to that benchmark in the near future with the continued testing that we're seeing.”

Wydysh also said, “We also know there's been quite a bit of talk of needing more testing in the Niagara Falls city area. Niagara Falls is where we are seeing our highest number of positive tests come back. Again, to be expected in a more densely populated area. But we need to have the testing in that city available for the individuals that need it.

“We did hear about another testing site that's going to be happening. We’re very happy to announce that Community Health Center of Niagara will be holding testing clinics on May 9 and May 17 with their mobile unit, which will be parked at their facility at 2715 Highland Ave. To schedule an appointment with them, you can call 716-986-9199, ext. 5907.”

Rite Aid, NCCC Testing Sites

Congressman Brian Higgins received confirmation Rite Aid is planning to locate two new drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in Western New York: one in the City of Niagara Falls and one in Buffalo’s coronavirus hotspot within the 14215 ZIP code.

An emergency relief package, approved by Congress, provided the $73.2 million in federal funding toward a contract between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and certain retail establishments to support drive-thru testing sites.

Late Monday, Rite Aid confirmed plans to accommodate drive-thru testing at its locations at 1030 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls; and 2474 Bailey Ave., Buffalo.

Rite Aid told Higgins’ office it is exploring safe ways to accommodate tests for those walking up or arriving by way of public transportation.

Coordination and training is currently underway, but Rite Aid said it hoped to have the Buffalo and Niagara Falls testing sites up and running within the next week or so.

Adults wishing to be tested for the disease will need to pre-register on the Rite Aid website once the sites are open. Additional details will be provided in the coming days.

A drive-thru testing site opened last week at Niagara County Community College in Sanborn.

On Monday, Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton said, “They can do up to 500 (tests) a day. … That’s a great source of testing for the county. People should make sure they go online and call the phone number to make sure people are getting tested.”

He called the setup “a little city (whose) sole purpose is to make sure that the residents of Niagara County get tested.”

Stapleton said it only takes a few minutes to be tested, but preregistration is required.

Though testing is intended to be for people working in an essential industry, “We ask you to remember not to exclude yourself if you are uncertain about whether or not you will qualify. Give the state hotline number a call and find out,” Wydysh said. “We are finding that they are testing most people who call and want to be tested; they are taking care of that.”

Erie County

The Erie County Department of Health has updated its COVID-19 testing to include anyone who believes they may have been exposed to or at risk for COVID-19.

This update will expand upon previous testing criteria, which included any individual with symptoms of COVID-19, including any of the following: fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, diarrhea, new loss of taste or smell.

Individuals who are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms (asymptomatic) at the time of sample collection would not be subject to a commissioner’s isolation order. However, any asymptomatic person who receives a positive COVID-19 test result is subject to the commissioner’s isolation order.

Any individual who has COVID-19 symptoms at the time their sample is collected will be under a commissioner’s isolation order until their test results are available. Anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms before they receive their results should take immediate steps to remain at home, isolate themselves from others in their household, and consult with their physician.

Individuals with COVID-19 symptoms are strongly encouraged to contact their primary care physician to help manage their care.

To start the COVID-19 diagnostic testing process through the Erie County Department of Health, call 716-858-2929. Foreign language interpretation is available.

The expansion of Erie County’s criteria is possible because of the increase in testing capacity by the Erie County Public Health Lab, the New York State Department of Health, and partners in the health care community including Kaleida Health.

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