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‘Not open to the public’: First day of virus testing runs smoothly

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette A COVID-19 test is picked up by couriers as a UPMC security officer oversees at the COVID-19 Collection Site at 609 Brandon Ave. near Williamsport Regional Medical Center Monday. The site is not open to the public with no walk-in patients allowed. If testing is sought, the patient must be evaluated by their care provider, who must assess the need and contact the local UPMC infection prevention team. Trained UPMC staff will collect specimens safely in personal protective equipment that includes gowns, gloves, and N95 masks or respirators.

Twenty-three people were tested Monday for COVID-19 in Williamsport at an outpatient specimen collection site. Administrators there said the process was “excellent.”

The site is not open to the public, said Heather Stafford, director of infection prevention and control at UPMC Susquehanna.

Results could be returned in less than 24 hours or within one week and will be communicated to the patient’s referring physician, according to a news release.

“We are following Center for Disease Control recommendations,” Stafford said. “Only patients who have been screened by a physician and an infection prevention specialist will be tested, if it is deemed necessary.”

The site, at 609 Brandon Ave., has no risk to the homes around it and experts there said they believe there is no safer way to conduct the testing.

“We’ve been hearing that neighbors may be concerned about potentially being exposed to sick people coming in for testing,” said Stafford. “We want the community to know that we have worked out a process that does not involve people who arrive for testing waiting around outside.”

Those who are tested have been seen by a physician first, before being referred to the testing site. They arrive for their predetermined appointment time, she said, then are instructed to go home and self-quarantine until their results come back.

Each patient Monday was in and out of the facility in the span of about four minutes, said Stafford, and UPMC has the ability to open more testing sites if they are needed.

The structure that the testing is taking place in was specially designed and built in 2009 to produce ideal conditions to perform such tests safely and efficiently, said James Slotterback, manager of emergency preparedness at UPMC, according to a news release.

The trained staff operate in appropriate safety gear and the collection is done in negative pressure rooms, which ensures that the air is cleaned before it exits the area.

The specimens will be safely transported to one of three places for testing: the UPMC Clinical Laboratory in Pittsburgh, the state Department of Health laboratory in Exeter, which is near Scranton, or a commercial laboratory, according to a news release.

Those who are tested are advised to self-isolate until the results come back and UPMC will refer the patient to public health authorities to ensure ongoing care.

If any patient tests positive, it will remain a “presumptive positive” case until the CDC has tested the specimen.

“People who suspect they have COVID-19 but do not have a high fever or breathing problems should call their primary care physician or use their provider’s virtual visit options to get advice. Anyone with a high fever or more prominent breathing trouble should go to their local emergency department for evaluation and care,” a news release stated.