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Niagara Falls seeking answers to pulled testing resources for COVID-19

Wed, Jul 22nd 2020 01:15 pm

With the number of COVID-19 cases decreasing in the Western New York area, there has been a decrease in testing availability – as well as a longer turnaround times for test results, with available test supplies being redirected to areas considered to be hotspots.

The Office of City of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said, “Although the decrease in cases is a positive turn, the effort to contain the spread of the virus is being inhibited by a slowdown in receiving test results. In order to keep infection rates low and contact trace potential patients, it is critical that Niagara Falls continue to have access to testing resources.

“With the appropriately allocated testing resources, Niagara Falls had been able to amplify testing for COVID-19, helping the community to get ahead of the virus and promptly contact trace in order to contain the spread. In order for contact tracing to be effective, patients need to be notified in a timely manner (within 48 hours) about their test results.”

Contact tracing typically involves the following:

√ Interviewing people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 to identify those who they’ve had close contact with during the time they might have been infectious

√ Notifying contacts of their potential exposure

√ Referring contacts for testing

√ Monitoring contacts for signs and symptoms of COVID-19

√ Connecting contacts with service they might need during the self-quarantined period

In order to adhere to these guidelines and experience best results, testing needs to be available to those who are potentially infectious and those around them.

Restaino was informed in follow-up conversations with local hospitals that testing supplies intended for Western New York are being redirected to other areas.

“Our city has a high percentage of those populations considered vulnerable. We simply cannot accept that we will potentially lose the ground we gained over these weeks and months,” he said. “It is just inconceivable that states are being left to compete with each other for necessary resources, which will only lead to proliferation of the virus.”

In a conference on the topic with Niagara County legislators Mark Grozio, Christopher Robins, Owen Steed and Dennis Virtuoso, Virtuoso commented, “I believe in helping the other states with testing, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of sacrificing testing for our citizens. This should have been looked at months ago by the federal government and they should have prepared for adequate testing for all the states.”

The mayor’s office said, “While NYS has been exemplary in their management of the spread of this pandemic, it’s the poorer communities that are suffering with the reduced availability of testing. Niagara County Legislator Owen Steed explains how this is affecting our community on the local level.”

“We see the impact of COVID-19 in poorer communities and communities of color and those who are essential workers. Now is not the time to start taking away access that we should all have to testing,” Restaino said.

The office noted, “With COVID cases rapidly rising in hotspots across the nation, it’s important to remain diligent in testing and the ability to provide tests in a timely manner to continue to reduce the spread of the virus. With WNY in the midst of working on reopening plans for schools and the still-closed businesses, it’s more imperative than ever that we’re able to keep the number of cases down. A nonpartisan report, developed by scientists and industry experts, recommends that federal leadership and private sector partnership achieve 30 million tests per week and to reduce test processing time from the current lag of between five to 14 days to a 48-hour standard.”

Restaino said, “This is really a test of national leadership and currently it is a failure as the White House recommends cuts to funding for testing. While we need and should demand better, the virus is not taking any time off.”

Last week, Congressman Brian Higgins submitted a letter to Adm. Brett Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Higgins told the U.S. “coronavirus testing czar” he sought answers as to why he was hearing supplies needed to test for COVID-19 were being redirected outside of the area.

“New York successfully flattened the COVID curve, but continued robust testing and quick turnaround times on results are essential to limiting the spread,” Higgins said. “This is the same battle we had months ago. Due to a lack of leadership by this administration, there is a limited supply of tests, leaving communities across the country competing for urgently needed medical supplies. Widespread access to testing must be ramped up immediately. Without it, the health and lives of Americans are increasingly at risk.”

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