The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released a list this week of COVID-19 testing sites that are available to the public, but information about similar sites on the Outer Banks and the rest of the northeast is nearly impossible to find.
Hospital emergency rooms and primary healthcare providers in the region have been able to provide tests for those who meet qualifying criteria, which was updated by the state on Friday.
The test site list posted on the NCDHHS website for the first time this week only shows one specific location in the 12-county area at the Beaufort County Health Department in Washington.
Local hospital operators Vidant Health and Sentara were also included on that list, but with no specific information about where the sites are located in the region.
“The northeast part of our state does not have the sites that we would like to see,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services at a Friday news conference.
“It’s going to look different in different communities,” Cohen said. “Certain local communities will partner with a health system or hospital in their community.”
Annya Soucy, an administrator at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, said Friday they currently did not have testing that is open to the public.
Soucy said they are still in the planning stages, and that among the considerations are using mobile testing vans at strategic locations.
Sentara offered drive-thru testing at several locations in southeastern Virginia during the early stages of the pandemic, including one in the Edinburgh section of southern Chesapeake.
A Vidant spokesperson had not responded to an email from OBX Today as of Friday evening.
Cohen added that other parts of the state have large chain stores partnering with the federal government on setting up drive-thru testing.
The closest major retailer in North Carolina to have a mass testing site is a Walmart in Greenville, and there are some reportedly in the Hampton Roads area.
“We have inquired several times about providing opportunities for free or mass testing in Dare County but have been informed at this time all of the sites have already been selected,” said Shelia Davies, director of Dare County’s Department of Health of Human Services.
“In the absence of available federal or state assistance at this time, we have been working to find alternative opportunities. I expect to be able to share more information on a local initiative for COVID-19 drive-thru testing by next week,” Davies said in a video released Thursday.
“It’s our job now to look at that mapping of where those sites are and where are we missing and fill that in,” Cohen said.
Cohen said they will rely on local emergency management and public health officials to alert them to the gaps that exist, so the state can meet the testing and other needs in under served areas during the pandemic.
“We want to make sure we are filling in gaps even further … that you will see us contract with particular vendors to say hey we still have gaps how do we make sure we are hitting all of the communities across North Carolina,” Cohen said.
Also on Friday, the state issued updated guidance on who should be tested for COVID-19. The new guidance recommends that clinicians test any patient that the coronavirus is suspected.
WRAL-TV reported earlier this week that the guidelines actually changed on April 20, but they were never disseminated publicly beyond health care facilities.
The new guidance recommends clinicians ensure the following populations have access to testing, regardless of symptoms:
- Anyone with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19
- Close contacts of known positive cases, regardless of symptoms
- Persons who live in or have regular contact with high-risk settings (e.g., long-term care facility, homeless shelter, correctional facility, migrant farmworker camp)
- Persons who are at high risk of severe illness (e.g., people over 65 years of age, people of any age with underlying health conditions)
- Persons who come from historically marginalized populations
- Health care workers or first responders (e.g. EMS, law enforcement, fire department, military)
- Front-line and essential workers (grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, etc.) in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain
“We want anyone who needs a test to get one. This is particularly important for those at high-risk for severe illness, those at greatest risk for exposure and those who are being disproportionately impacted by this virus,” said Cohen.
The new guidance updates testing criteria for the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health. Those include hospitalized patients, health care workers or first responders, persons who live in or have regular contact with a high-risk setting, persons who are at higher risk of severe illness and for whom a clinician has determined that results would inform clinical management, and uninsured patients.