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COVID-19 testing expands to Bedford

Bedford County will be among the first beneficiaries of an extended state contract, with a team setting up free COVID-19 testing from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sunday in the Bedford High School parking lot, 330 W. John St., Bedford.

The state Department of Health has extended its contract with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, creating five new regional “strike teams” to provide additional COVID-19 testing.

The testing is for 61 of the state’s 67 counties — all those without their own health departments, according to information presented in a virtual news conference and a news release Tuesday.

Over the next three months, AMI’s new strike teams will complement two previously formed teams that continue to provide “pop-up” testing, such has been done in Blair, Huntingdon and Centre counties.

The new strike teams will set up this week in Mifflin, Northampton, Tioga and Butler counties, as well as Bedford.

The department is expanding testing as a hedge against the potential for hospitals and health workers becoming overwhelmed, as cases have surged in the state, Gov. Tom Wolf said.

Up to 450 patients a day can be tested at each of the new strike team sites — a limit based on the project budget, according to an AMI employee who worked at the Blair pop-up site recently.

The sites offer drive-thru and indoor testing on a first-come, first-served basis. Testing is free, though patients are encouraged to bring a photo ID or insurance card.

Appointments are not necessary, and patients do not need to be symptomatic, although they must be at least 3 years old.

Workers at the sites use a swab that is “twirled a couple times” in the nose, according to Michael Huff, the department’s director of testing and contact tracing.

Results should be available within two to seven days.

Those tested should quarantine while awaiting results, using a private room and private bathroom at home, if possible. If they live with others, they also should stay home until the results arrive.

AMI will call those who test positive and email those who test negative.

The department is deploying AMI based on counties’ numbers of new cases per 100,000 people in the previous 14 days, test positivity rates and where outbreaks are occurring.

The earlier pop-up site in Blair tested 3,820 patients; the one in Huntingdon, 1,396; and the one in Centre, 2,492.

The department is paying for AMI’s work through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state has greatly increased its testing capacity as the pandemic has developed. Between March and May, there were 67,000 tests, Wolf said.

“Now we can do almost that many in one day,” he said.

The daily average for the last 30 days is 50,000.

There are about 950 testing sites in Pennsylvania, according to Huff. They include 550 contract sites, not all staffed by AMI, along with sites operated by county health departments and by hospitals, medical centers, clinics, federally qualified health centers, pharmacies and urgent care centers.

Based on statistics provided by the department, the state continues to struggle with case investigations and contact tracing.

For the week ending Nov. 21, when 44,500 new positives, case investigations were started on only 17 percent of cases within 24 hours and an additional 4 percent within 48 hours, a department news release said.

The followup tracing of contacts generated by successful case investigations led to identification of 11,300 individuals who potentially could have been infected.

Since early October, tracers have “effectively reached” 76 percent of contacts identified by investigators, according to the news release.

Pennsylvania residents are in “a dangerous time,” one that calls for continued observance of mitigation efforts like masking, social distancing, washing hands and staying home, Huff said.

He predicted “even greater spikes,” and pointed out that it may take a week or 10 days to see the statistical results of cases generated by Thanksgiving travel and get-togethers.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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