Updated 12:05 pm, Saturday to include contact tracing information
Modeled after drive-through influenza clinic plans Vineyard boards of health have kept at the ready, a drive-through COVID-19 clinic at the high school is expected to be operational by the end of May. Island Health Care (IHC) along with the Vineyard boards of health will begin a contract tracing project in the coming weeks. Medical testing colossus Quest Diagnostics will furnish thousands of tests for the clinic, which will be run cooperatively among IHC, the Vineyard’s health boards, EMS and emergency management officials, and others.
“Ultimately the goal is to provide testing for every individual on the Island who would like to be tested,” Tisbury Health Agent Maura Valley said at a Zoom conference Friday afternoon. On Thursday, West Tisbury Health Agent Omar Johnson told his board “up to 15,000” tests were coming. What Valley outlined would require thousands more.
Valley, like every other speaker, tipped her hat to Stephen Rusckowski , Quest Diagnostics CEO, Chairman, and President and to Deborah O’Hara Rusckowski, a nurse. Deborah Rusckowski explained that through their friendship with Edgartown selectman Michael Donaroma, they were able to set a project in motion where they will channel the nasal swab tests necessary to make the clinic a reality.
Edgartown Health Agent Matt Poole described the clinic as for those who have no symptoms or those who harbor suspicions about infection. Unlike the testing the hospital does, he described the utility of the drive through testing initiative as “more of a surveillance and prevention focused effort.”
“We are a major force, providing testing throughout the country,” Stephen Rusckowski said. “Currently we have done about 20 percent of the U.S.’s testing for COVID-19. And in specific states like Massachusetts we have a larger presence. In the state of Massachusetts we’ve done about 45 percent of the state’s tests.”
Rusckowski went on to say on March 18, as he said Gov. Charlie Baker reminded him, the commonwealth had only 800 tests “total in aggregate.”
Today, Rusckowski said he was “proud to say” the company’s Marlboro facility is executing “about 5,000 per day” and in a couple weeks it would double that number. By the end of June he expects the number to double again.
The tests Quest Diagnostic will provide to the Vineyard are PCR or a “molecular test” that “essentially determines whether you have the virus or do not have the virus, period.” The test is performed via nasal swab, he said, as opposed to through drawn blood, which determines if someone has developed antibodies to the virus.
Deborah Ruscowski said she had no compunctions about joining frontline medical workers to support the clinic.
“I welcome the opportunity of helping out on the drive-through testing line,” she said.
She went on to say she was “honored to serve the Vineyard in this time of need and uncertainty.”
Island Healthcare CEO Cynthia Mitchell, a West Tisbury selectman, said the drive-through clinic would be by appointment only with pre-registration required.
She described it as a drive-through tent where a “self-swab test” is performed.
Stephen Rusckowski said he expected overnight turnarounds on results.
On behalf of the bank’s employees and the bank’s foundation, Martha’s Vineyard Bank president and CEO James Anthony said $100,000 of support will be given to the testing project to make sure all Islanders can be tested “regardless of their ability to pay,” he said.
“Our institution is about one quarter of one percent the size of Quest Diagnostics,” he said, “so I feel like I’m standing among giants…”
Asked by The Times if contact tracing data would be made publicly available, Mitchell said a link on the Island Healthcare website is coming that will allow access to aggregate tracing numbers.
“We’ll start building it in the next week,” she said. “And we’re also wanting to not only report data, aggregate numbers, but to have a smaller community advisor group to let us know what they want to see on the website in terms of resources and information and guidelines.”
Mitchell described Island Healthcare as a “nursing-based health center” and said it is under contract with the Vineyard boards of health to provide public health nursing services to the six towns of the Vineyard.
“Part of our scope of service is to be able to help plan disaster response and actually respond and don’t you know, here we are…,” she said.
Contact tracing, she said, is the purview of the Vineyard’s boards of health.
“It lives with the boards of health and then it’s contracted to our public health nurses,” she said. “So it’s happening at Island Healthcare. It’s all telephonic.”
The process is enhanced, she said, by Island Healthcare’s relationship with Partners in Health through the statewide contact tracing collaborative.
“What that means is you know say we identify, which we will, a higher number of positive cases,” she said, “therefore a greater group of contacts that becomes too numerous, the groups of contacts, we can look to the collaborative to help follow the contacts as well. We have a list of volunteers here on the Island who have been trained in that collaborative. So they can do it but if it gets to be even too much for that group, the boards of health are able to tap in the statewide contact tracing collaborative and get extra support and they’ve got over 1,000 people.”
Martha’s Vineyard Hospital “by consensus among providers on the Vineyard” has done the “bulk” of COVID-19 testing on the Vineyard, she said. “So at Island Healthcare we’ve been referring tests to them.”
She went on to say that’s where the first leg of contact tracing begins.
“The hospital has tested some 600, maybe a little over that,” she said. “And the workflow when a case comes back positive, is that the hospital gets in touch with us, with our public health nurses, they do the registration at DPH [Massachusetts Department of Public Health]. They follow the case, monitor the case closely, and also follow the contacts closely. We’re now part of the state-wide Partners in Health Contact Tracing [Collaborative]. And basically to follow that and monitor that we’ve been meeting with the boards of health weekly The contact tracing is going well. But we have felt for some time, several weeks, many health centers have, that we need to be doing more in the way of testing in our communities and it has been a question of supply for the most part. And so the boards of health and Island Healthcare have been poised to and struggled to identify the right source of these tests to expand and
“That was Steve and Deb’s cue to enter the scene.”
Mitchell told The Times Monday said what the contact tracing data will look like isn’t yet clear.
“We have to look into how the contact piece of this can be quantified,” she said. Unlike reporting for positive cases, she said, “I think there’s apt to be less hard data about contacts.”
Both IHC nurses and volunteers are at work on contact tracing, she said. Also, a Brazilian-Portugeuese medical interpreter is assisting.
Asked by The Times at the Zoom meeting if there will be a geographic key to the contact data provided — a town by town key — Mitchell deferred to Valley.
“So this is an ongoing discussion, as we have more data, how we will release this data,” Valley said. “Currently we do not release data by town because we feel that we’re a small community; we’re one Island, and we report as one Island. Because there really is no benefit to breaking it down by town. We are a very small community. But as we get larger numbers, there may be some benefit of reporting it by town. We haven’t made those decisions yet.”
Updated to provide more details and to clarify that contract tracing is already being done, but this will enhance it. – Ed.