COVID Tests in High Demand as Omicron Surges
As concerns about COVID-19 increase, specifically, concerns regarding the Omicron variant, there is accompanying uneasiness in some quarters regarding testing for the virus.
More than 960 testing sites across the state are open to meet the demand. Five are located in Montgomery County, in Ardmore, Green Lane, Norristown, Pottstown, and Willow Grove. They are open to individuals who live, work, or attend school in the county. Testing is available Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until noon and 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., although appointments are required.
And Delaware County announced a new large-scale federal COVID-19 testing site for the Pennsylvania Southeast Community Health District, which includes Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Montgomery and Schuylkill counties. The COVID-19 drive-thru testing site, located at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby will be operated under the direction of the Health and Human Services’ Increasing Community Access to Testing Team (ICATT), in coordination with the County of Delaware and Trinity Mid-Atlantic/Mercy Fitzgerald. The free, drive-thru PCR testing will be provided 7 days a week from 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Pre-registration is encouraged: https://www.ineedacovid19test.com/
Also, the Biden administration announced it will send 500,000 free test kits upon request.
Testing is paid for via CARES Act funding. It is free to recipients, but if an individual has insurance their carrier may be billed.
Test results are generally available in approximately 48 hours. But the turnaround may take longer because of the large volume of tests being administered, not just in Montgomery County but across the state and nation. To expedite the process, test recipients are encouraged to create a MAKO account which can be done at mako.luminatehealth.com. Registrants can then receive their test results electronically.
Christina Miller of the Montgomery County Office of Public Health says the sites have been busy since Omicron was first identified.
“Montgomery County’s five testing sites administered more than 18,000 tests during the month of December,” she said, “more than double the number administered in November. At the close of the month, county staff was administering approximately 1,200 tests per day.”
Miller says the county recently expanded the capacity at its testing sites to keep up with demand and that appointments are available this week.
To help ease the strain on county health systems, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, through a partnership with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare has created an assortment of mobile testing sites, with many in rural communities. They can test up to 450 people age 3 and older daily and can be relocated depending on need.
There is no charge for the testing and no appointments are necessary; testing is done on a first-come, first-served basis. Individuals utilizing mobile sites must be symptom-free. They are encouraged to bring a photo ID, although that is not required.
Test results are available two to seven days after testing.
In Delaware County, a mobile site operates at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Yeadon. Testing is available Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. During the first hour of each day, testing is reserved for first responders, emergency services personnel, and health care workers.
Keara Klinepeter, Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Health, recently visited the Yeadon site.
“The Department of Health continues making COVID-19 testing accessible, available, and flexible for Pennsylvanians at hundreds of locations, and this public testing site is just another example of that,” she said.
“We encourage anyone who feels they need or want a test, especially if they think they have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, to take advantage of the free COVID-19 testing closest to them. This includes fully vaccinated individuals who are experiencing symptoms.”
Delaware County also opened a new testing site, at the Delaware County Emergency Training Center, at 1600 Calcon Hook Road in Sharon Hill, to provide drive-through COVID-19 testing to hundreds of Delaware County residents each day, officials said.
The Department of Health is also applying to participate in Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT), a program from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designed to increase access to COVID-19 testing. The DOH would like to utilize this program to set up additional testing sites in Southeastern Pennsylvania.”
Individuals desiring or in need of a rapid-response test may also utilize their healthcare provider or pharmacies. In those circumstances, individuals may have to pay out of pocket for their test and then seek reimbursement from their insurance carrier.
A spokeswoman for Urgent Care informed DVJ it does not accept insurance and that those who are tested must pay an up-front charge of $89, then apply to their insurance carrier for reimbursement. The spokeswoman said Urgent Care adopted the policy after insurance companies refused to pay when billed by the company.
In the meantime, the Department of Health encourages residents to get vaccinated and receive booster shots.
Ryan Eldridge, deputy communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said, “While testing is an important tool, it is vitally important that individuals understand that being fully vaccinated and receiving a booster dose continues to be highly effective against the COVID-19 virus especially serious illness, hospitalization, and death. We continue to encourage all eligible Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated and get boosted.”
“In April 2020, the Wolf administration developed an enhanced testing strategy with a focus on three pillars: Ensuring testing is accessible for all Pennsylvanians with symptoms of COVID-19; available by increasing supply and building community capacity and adaptable to the evolving landscape of the virus and data,” Eldridge added. “To that end, several partnerships and programs were facilitated and created to ensure that this happens and is practical.”
“To date, Pennsylvania has received $565 million in federal funding to conduct COVID-19 testing across the Commonwealth through 2024,” he said. “These funds are being used to conduct testing in a variety of congregate settings such as schools and long-term care facilities. That figure does not however include funding that has been allocated or distributed to county or municipal health departments and it does not include resources and/or funding to continue our testing partnership with AMI.”
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