The need for COVID-19 testing sites in rural counties was the focus of a press conference by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer Thursday morning at Medina Memorial Hospital.
Schumer said Congress has approved $9 billion in funding for states and rural counties, such as Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming, but the Federal government won’t release it.
Both Schumer and hospital CEO Mark Shurtz are concerned about the amount of testing that will need to be done with the coronavirus cases exploding across the region. Schumer said Orleans seven-day average has quadrupled since Nov. 1, and yet the county has zero free COVID-19 testing sites.
Genesee and Orleans County Health Department Director Paul Pettit said there are currently no free testing sites in the three-county area, forcing residents to drive to Monroe Community College in Rochester, Niagara County Community College in Sanborn or Downtown Buffalo for a free test.
Testing is being done at Oak Orchard Health in Albion, and drive-thru testing at Orleans Community Health’s Urgent Care in Albion, but it isn’t free.
County officials estimate thousands more tests are desperately needed immediately and with cases on the rise, there will be increased need for testing of nursing home residents, health care workers and school children, Pettit said.
County officials project they will need at least seven to eight rapid test machines and thousands of test kits at minimum, compared to the two machines and 700 rapid test kits they have now.
Schumer demanded the Department of Health and Human Services release the testing dollars he helped to originally secure to conduct sufficient rapid testing and tracing programs to keep residents safe from the virus. Schumer also announced his intention to fight for more of those funds for communities across Upstate New York, as the possibility of a second wave emerges and as a Covid relief deal continues to be negotiated.
Marc Shurtz, CEO/CFO of Orleans Community Health, said every tool and resource available is needed to best protect the community and health professionals, and that certainly includes more robust testing.
“Especially now as Covid infection and transmission rates are spiking again in Western New York, we need to increase our testing capacity – including rapid testing – to stop the spread and avoid other protective measures, like lockdowns,” Shurtz said. "If we can head off community spread with more testing, we can curb new hospitalizations, which are already up 550 percent in the Finger Lakes Region.”