TestMV, the COVID-19 testing site set up at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and run by Island Health Care (IHC) is on the search for clinician volunteers to help as the testing site ramps up testing on the Island.
Deborah O’Hara-Rusckowski, a registered nurse and TestMV volunteer, spoke with The Times by phone about the need for volunteers, especially licensed clinician volunteers, to help administer tests.
O’Hara-Rusckowski and her husband Stephen Rusckowski, CEO of Quest Diagnostics, brought 15,000 tests to the Vineyard for anyone over the age of 18, including asymptomatic individuals. As of Wednesday, 7,473 people had been tested, with 16 testing positive, and 552 pending results.
“Everyone’s happy because we all feel like we’re really making a difference,” O’Hara-Rusckowski said. While the testing site is looking for both clinicians and nonclinician volunteers, O’Hara-Rusckowski said the need for clinicians is paramount.
“By FDA regulations it has to be a licensed nurse, doctor, paramedic, or pharmacist. It has to be an active license,” she said.
Also speaking to The Times by phone, IHC CEO Cynthia Mitchell said TestMV is working on expanding testing. The site tested its first individual under the age of 18 as part of a pilot program. While under-18 testing is not available to everyone yet, Mitchell said, “We will announce when we are officially open for testing under 18.”
O’Hara-Rusckowski said the online registration has been a boon to the testing site, but with more registrations, the site is now looking for more volunteers to help ramp up testing. Those interested in volunteering should email IHC at email@example.com.
A $100,000 fund was established by the Martha’s Vineyard Bank Charitable Foundation to cover uninsured individuals.
“The bills are only now kind of coming through, so it remains to be seen how far the $100,000 will go,” Mitchell said. “It’s a wonderfully generous amount, and we deeply appreciate the bank doing this.”
The $100,000 is part of the $650,000 the foundation has pledged to the community.
“We’re just honored to be in a position to help, because it’s the people of Martha’s Vineyard who give us their support,” Christine (“C.J.”) Conrad, vice president of marketing and solution development, said. “It’s really the community helping itself by banking local, shopping local.”
Ramped-up testing has already begun at that site. Currently, 200 to 250 people are being tested per day. The site is aiming for 300 to 400 tests per day, but that requires more volunteers. The goal is to have 12 clinicians a day evenly split into two shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
“You really want to have a pool to be able to help pick from, because some people only work two days a week, three days a week, or one or two shifts,” O’Hara-Rusckowski said. “You really want to have 24 to 30 clinicians in the pool.”
For volunteers at the site, days can be long when there are lulls in tests. Another reason to ramp up tests is to keep volunteers busy and engaged. O’Hara-Rusckowski said the site has actually lost some volunteers. Despite this, she said those volunteers who have stayed are happy with the work.
O’Hara-Rusckowski even recruited a doctor who was getting a test at the site. “We really could use clinical help. The other people, they’re helping out in different ways, by checking out IDs, checking them in, and giving them test kits, putting them on their side-view mirrors, and that’s all critically important too,” she said. “If we don’t have the clinicians, we can’t support all the cars that come through.”
Right now, O’Hara-Rusckowski estimates TestMV has about 16 clinicians, and thinks that number should be doubled to meet testing demand and have a robust pool to pull from. She said it would make a huge impact if volunteers could commit to even two shifts a week.
“The demand is up around the country,” O’Hara-Rusckowski said. The hot weather has been tough on volunteers, but O’Hara-Rusckowski said a large donation of neck coolers from Trader Fred’s has helped beat the heat.
TestMV is also conducting test pooling, which is when test samples are combined from several people and tested all at once to detect COVID-19. If a pooled test results in a negative, all samples can be presumed negative; if positive, all samples will need to be tested individually. This is helpful in an area such as Martha’s Vineyard, where the rate of positive tests is low.
Due to a high demand for testing nationwide, TestMV is telling people that results may take up to a week. Healthcare workers and first responders can still expect their results in one to two business days.
“All TestMV patients were initially given result prioritization because of our remote location, limited testing options on Martha’s Vineyard, and ample capacity from our testing partner, Quest Diagnostics. Recently, Quest has experienced a nationwide surge in demand, which has impacted turnaround time at Quest’s lab in Marlborough,” IHC’s website reads.
Mitchell said she was tested on July 24, and received her results on July 31. Mitchell was scheduled to meet with Quest Friday to get an update on turnaround times for test results.
“We are advising people to absolutely still get tested. It’ll involve a little more planning, perhaps, understanding that it’s not a two-day turnaround,” Mitchell said. “In terms of understanding the community spread, it’s really important that we all get tested.”