First responders, grocery store employees, and other frontline workers will be among the first people to receive COVID-19 tests as part of a mass testing coordinated by Island health agents and Island Health Care (IHC).
During a press conference via Zoom, IHC CEO Cynthia Mitchell, Edgartown health agent Matt Poole, and Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said testing will begin on May 28, and run through the summer. All testing is voluntary. In its first phase, which is expected to last seven to 10 days, the site will test first responders, public safety officials, medical and dental workers, grocery store employees, and emergency food workers and volunteers.
The second phase will test people 65 and older, people with chronic health issues, and those living in multifamily housing.
The first phase will be a soft launch, as IHC works to get up and running, but after that first week, Mitchell said, testing will be open by appointment six days a week from 9 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 4 pm. All testing will be by appointment, and people must register beforehand. After the soft launch, IHC expects to be testing 40 people, per day, per station.
Tests will be dispensed via drive-through and walk-ups. People arriving in their cars will drive up to a tent in the PAC parking lot before being guided by parking volunteers to queue up vehicles. Three large tents will be set up in the high school’s bus parking area for the drive-through stations. While originally hoping to set up four testing lanes, Valley said they went down to three after assessing the site.
A separate tent will be set up for walk-ups, which will have a clear-sided screen, and people will be separated by six feet.
Valley said the testing will be run similar to Island flu clinics.
“Like the flu clinics, this testing site will be staffed largely with volunteer labor,” she said.
Part of the registration will have a screening process with a list of questions. Should someone say they are experiencing symptoms, they will most likely receive a referral to the hospital.
Valley said the testing site is built around the idea of no contact. “The plan with this clinic is to have it completely no-contact,” Valley said. “The individual remains in their car and does their own swab.”
Valley said they are looking for licensed medical volunteers to observe testing, and nonmedical volunteers to conduct check-ins and administrative tasks.
Valley said they are relying heavily on the Martha’s Vineyard Medical Reserve Corps. The reserve corps will pre-credential volunteers, and conduct outreach for the testing. Those interested in volunteering should contact the reserve corps at email@example.com. Volunteer recruiting is expected to be ongoing throughout the summer.
While they’re still awaiting many responses, Valley said she got a lot of interested responses from people at the Island Food Pantry.
“I’ve had a very strong response from the folks I reached out to,” Poole agreed. “Stop & Shop did get back, very, very enthusiastic about the opportunity.”
Island Health Care has contracted a call center, and beginning June 1, the testing site will have a 1-800 number set up to take calls. This will allow people to register and set up appointments. The call center will be open 8 am to 5 pm.
IHC has also set up a page on its website for COVID-19 information, and will eventually have a list of resources for people and information on contact tracing.
“We’re very pleased with where we’re at,” Poole said. “Pretty good progress, no concerns.”
Valley stressed the importance of getting tested, because people can be asymptomatic. If someone tests positive and they are asymptomatic, public health officials can work to trace that person’s contacts, and try to contain any potential spread.
“One of the most effective public health tools we have for stemming the spread of this illness is finding positive individuals and their contacts, and making sure they don’t interact with others,” Valley said.
As contact tracing begins to ramp up, Poole advised that people may receive phone calls and should “dodge less of those strange phone numbers.”
Contact tracing will be done once test results come back, should there be any positives. Mitchell said IHC’s website will detail what information people should have ready when they call to make an appointment and register.
Poole added there will be no out-of-pocket costs for people at the site.