A mobile operation to expand access to COVID-19 testing has been tested twice and is expected to be fully functional in September.
The goal is to bring testing closer to people in Harrisburg and in outlying areas of Dauphin and Perry counties who face barriers such as lack of transportation or distance.
The operation will be run by Harrisburg-based Hamilton Health Center with help from county commissioners in Dauphin and Perry.
It was tested on two Saturdays in July in the parking lot of Hamiltons main facility on South 17th St. in Harrisburg, with each one drawing close to 50 people, according to Jeannine Peterson, the CEO of Hamilton. Those events were held mainly for practice and with minimal advertising, she said.
The plan is to take testing to various locations advertised in advance so people who lack access to testing because of barriers such as lack of transportation can get tested.
Peterson said shes in the process of hiring a team that will be fully devoted to the mobile testing operation.
People wont have to pay for the tests. If the testing is not covered by their health insurance or they lack insurance, it will be covered by the federal CARES Act, Peterson said.
People tested so far have received their results within five days, which is slower than Peterson would like. We would like to get them back within 24 hours, she said. We have no control over turnaround time.
RELATED: People waiting way too long for COVID-19 test results in Pa.
The tests are processed by Quest Diagnostics, one of the national labs that has been overwhelmed as COVID cases have spiked around the country.
Recently, some of those labs have taken up to about two weeks to provide results. Quest has said it is adding equipment and technology and steadily increasing its testing capacity in order to reduce the waits.
Still, shortages of chemicals known as reagents are also delaying tests results, including some of the tests done by hospitals and health systems.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine acknowledged the problem Thursday, saying she has been having discussions with labs including Quest and with federal officials about how to shorten the wait for results.
Levine said the state lab, which is still able to deliver results in 24-48 hours, is only able to handle testing involving long-term care facilities, health care workers ad similar high priority situations.
The mobile testing operation will be open to anyone who wants to get tested, even if they have no symptoms. Hamilton is considering using pre-registration to speed up the process, although Peterson says people who walk up without having registered will also be tested.
Once flu season begins in October, Peterson said, the mobile testing operation also will provide flu shots and flu tests.
That will address another problem expected to arise this fall as people get the flu, it will cause confusion over who has the flu and who has COVID, which is more dangerous for reasons including the fact its more contagious and theres no vaccine.
Public health officials will be urging everyone to get a flu shot in an effort to reduce the confusion and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by a combination of flu and COVID patients.
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