Pair of COVID-19 testing machines that return same-day test results coming to St. Lawrence County
BY ANDY GARDNER
North Country This Week
CANTON -- The St. Lawrence County Legislature's Finance Committee voted to buy two COVID-19 testing machines that could return same-day test results. One of the machines will go to St. Lawrence Health System. The other will go to Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center.
All 14 legislators present at the meeting voted in favor of it.Dr. Andrew Williams, president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health, said "being able to find the answer the same day is really critical to an effective public health response." He said each machine can process about 88 tests per day on average, with the maximum of about 105 daily.
"Having two additional Rheonix machines in the community will be important," the doctor said.
Brandon Bowline, Claxton-Hepburn's chief operating officer, said CHMC has Rheonix machines, but has trouble getting the chemicals needed for the test.
"We already have machines. The limiting factor has been reagents and supplies," he said.
Both Bowline and Williams said they expect labs at Claxton and St. Lawrence Health to be processing COVID-19 tests with the Rheonix machines around the clock.
Dr. Williams said the purchase, from the Ithaca-based Rheonix company, will mean they can get the reagent quicker and for less cost.
Legislators had voted to table the measure at their Services Committee meeting a week prior. Those who had voted in favor of tabling it cited a lack of information on the machine and logistics of it.
Legislator Dave Forsythe, R-Lisbon, was one of them, but at the Finance Committee he supported the purchase.
"I think one should be in Massena and one should be in Gouverneur ... I'd support that too," he said. "If somebody wanted two more, I'd support that too. I'm losing my conservative ways with that statement."
Dr. Williams said they would have to be placed at the hospitals because they can only be operated by lab technicians who are certified to run them. The county doesn't have anyone with the certification on their staff, he said.
When asked why the hospitals aren't buying them, Dr. Williams said the hospitals are, but what they have isn't enough to get to the level of same-day testing health officials want.
"When you look at the number of tests done in our county on a daily basis ... at least during the weekdays, there's about 1,000 and up to 3,000 tests done per day," he said, adding that 90% of those tests are sent to labs. Getting results back is usually in a minimum of three days but can take as many as 10 days.
It's that period between when the test is performed and when the person gets the results that Dr. Williams said is critical. A quicker result means people are less likely to leave self-isolation, pending their test results. And the Public Health Department can start case investigations and contact tracing more quickly.
The resolution will have to go in front of the full board before it becomes official.
Joe Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, chairs the full board and says he believes it should easily pass.
"Based on what I'm hearing tonight, at the full board meeting this won't have a problem passing," he said. "I congratulate you all and I thank you all for your support of this resolution."
"There's no downside to getting a rapid accurate test done. There's only upside," Dr. Williams said.