Courtesy of Cayuga Medical Center

Ithaca's drive through testing site rests in a driveway outside a building that was formerly Women’s Health of CMA.

April 15, 2020

Tompkins County Ramps Up COVID-19 Testing

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Cayuga Health System and Tompkins County Health Department are rising to meet challenges posed by increased demands for COVID-19 testing.

Their efforts included a sampling center that opened on March 24 in the parking lot of the Ithaca Mall, replacing a drive-through testing center.

Tompkins County “currently has adequate capacity” to test every resident who meets current testing guidelines, Dr. David Evelyn, vice president and chief medical officer of the Cayuga Health System, wrote in an email to The Sun.

“The sampling site was designed to be expandable” and additional sites can be built using the same model as needed to address a sudden uptick in potential cases, Evelyn wrote.

The sampling site has the capacity to test up to 1,000 patients a day, according to WSKG. As of Wednesday evening, TCHD had tested a total of 2,546 people.

Cayuga Health has chosen to “centralize” testing to a few locations in order to preserve personal protective equipment and testing materials, as well as “develop the capacity to meet a surge demand of testing as it occurs,” Evelyn wrote.

Once tested, it takes about two or three days to receive test results, Dr. Doug MacQueen, infectious disease specialist at the Cayuga Center for Infectious Diseases, told the Ithaca Voice.

Samples are tested at the Wadsworth Lab at the New York State Department of Health, where — similar to many labs across the country — tests are backlogged.

MacQueen said that the “next urgent need” is to expand testing capacity in labs.

“We heard for a couple of weeks now that testing capacity would be expanded, but so far it hasn’t been,” MacQueen said to the Ithaca Voice.

Evelyn said that commercial labs and hospitals across the state are “gradually” starting to do their own testing to cut down on the backlog at Wadsworth, adding that Cayuga Medical Center hopes to start in-house testing in the “near future.”

In addition to the sampling center, Cayuga Health is also expanding its testing options to include a test for COVID-19 antibodies, Evelyn said.

The most immediate application for this new option is to “identify potential plasma donors to treat active COVID-19 patients,” Evelyn wrote. Cayuga Medical is partnering with the Mayo Clinic in a clinical trial to treat the illness using donor plasma.

While most of the tests in Tompkins County have come from the sampling center, urgent care centers, including the Convenient Care Center at 10 Arrowwood Drive, and the emergency department at Cayuga Medical are also available for those who need a primary care evaluation in addition to a test, Evelyn added.

Tests are administered via nasal swab, and if a test returns a positive result, the patient will be quarantined until follow-up tests show two consecutive negative results.

Cayuga Medical Center sent a request to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on March 16 for three different kinds of swabs in anticipation of a future shortage. However, Evelyn wrote that Tompkins County is “currently in good shape” for all testing supplies.

Evelyn also praised the partnership between Cayuga Health and TCHD in addressing this crisis, specifically Cayuga Health’s contributions to the region’s “provider network and testing capacity” and the latter’s efforts in strengthening public health education and infrastructure.