Drive-through testing ramps up on-Island

Widespread testing and contact tracing involves multiphase rollout.

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A drive through COVID-19 testing site is being set up at the high school. — Lexi Pline

Starting Monday, June 1, any first responder, medical worker, grocery store employee, or other frontline worker will be able to receive a COVID-19 test after registering for an appointment via a call-in number.

Beginning at 9 am, frontline workers can call 877-336-9855 and schedule an appointment for a drive-through test. On a routine basis, the phone line will be available from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday.

Preregistration in this phase of the testing process is mandatory. Each test is anticipated to take about 10 minutes, according to health officials.

For the first phase of testing, frontline workers will be prioritized, but other Islanders are welcome to call. Vulnerable populations such as those with disabilities, those over the age of 65, or those who are immunocompromised or have existing health conditions will also be prioritized. Health officials are also looking to test those living in congregate housing and transportation workers early on in the process.

On Thursday and Friday, the newly set-up testing site at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School was up and running as part of a “soft launch,” according to Island Health Care (IHC) CEO Cynthia Mitchell.

During a press briefing Saturday offered by local health officials, Mitchell said 22 people were tested in total on the two days, and the 10 of those results that have already been released were negative. 

Over 300 Island frontline workers have been scheduled to be tested throughout the week as part of the phase one rollout. 

According to Mitchell, around 40 volunteers have signed up to do administrative work, direct traffic, and perform other administrative functions that help health officials take on this task. There are 17 licensed clinical observers currently signed up to assist with testing. 

“We now have the benefit of having some boots on the ground,” Mitchell said. “The list of volunteers with offers to help in both categories is growing daily.”

Because the Vineyard already had a time-tested and interconnected health network before the pandemic, Mitchell said, health officials were able to act quickly in providing tests. 

“The key to being able to execute the incredible offer by Quest is that here on the Vineyard, we already had a public health network that was tested and ready to go,” Mitchell said. “We will be happy to offer widespread testing to anyone on the Vineyard who wants one.”

She also noted the close working relationship between IHC and the Vineyard boards of health.

On Monday, Mitchell anticipates, as many as 70 tests will be conducted on frontline workers. 

Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said the public safety teams from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown helped with prep, and both towns’ fire chiefs have been active on the testing site to offer their guidance.

Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said that as testing on-Island increases, she undoubtedly expects to see an increase in positive cases.

And as the number of tests rise, contact tracing currently being conducted by IHC public health nurses will be able to better identify who may be sick, and get them tested as soon as possible.

“One of our strongest tools for trying to stop the spread of this is contact tracing and isolating positive individuals. All the contacts of positive individuals will be traced and identified,” Valley said.

A contact tracing course is available online through Partners in Health, along with training courses in case investigation and care resource coordination. Mitchell said the contact tracing course enables people to become certified in contact tracing and help Island health officials with the cause.

“That is going to give us enough breadth and support if our contact pool becomes too large for public health nurses to manage,” Mitchell said.

For case reporting going forward, Valley said, officials are pushing the scheduled release of information to 5 pm instead of 4 pm each day. Those being tested will be limited to two people per vehicle — one in the driver seat, and one in the rear driver side seat. This will allow one clinical observer to observe two people.