Cape Cod Reopening Task Force Looks to Expand Testing

The sign at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce welcomes visitors.

HYANNIS – As Massachusetts continues to slowly reopen, the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force is looking to expand testing capabilities throughout Barnstable County.

“Barnstable County remains well below the Commonwealth’s testing goal. The testing goal is to get 20 percent of the population in a given county to be tested for COVID-19,” said Cape and Islands State Senator and task force member Julian Cyr.  

“As of June 3 2020, which is the most recent numbers we have available, the total number of tests remained at 13,974 people in Barnstable County, which only represents 6.6 percent of the year round population of Cape Cod. In order to increase this low percentage testing rate, the Cape Cod Reopening Task force is proposing and working to roll out expanded testing capacity in several areas.”      

According to Cyr, Barnstable County plans to launch a mobile testing program in partnership with Cape Cod Healthcare and the Hyannis Fire Department.

The program will dispatch healthcare workers to facilities and workplaces that may have COVID-19 cases or may experience a surge in cases.

Healthcare workers would also be dispatched if businesses or facilities have been determined by a contract tracing team or a local board of health to have been exposed to the virus.

“This plan to launch mobile testing will help us deploy testing resources across the region,” said Cyr.

“In order to push for this crucial goal of getting to a 20 percent testing rate in Barnstable County we need a minimum of 5,000 testing kits to do this and the Reopening Task Force has put in a request to the Baker-Polito Administration and to Secretary Marylou Sudders to ask for assistance in acquiring these kits.”

The expanded testing capacity will allow officials to know the prevalence of the virus on Cape Cod throughout the summer.

According to data gathered by the task force, though the region has seen a sustained population increase since March, it has not resulted in community spread.

Cyr attributed this to how the public has responded to state guidelines.

“That leads us to think that by in large the public is taking personal responsibilities, they’re following guidelines with the information that we are putting out there,” said Cyr.

Outer Cape Health Services provided free COVID-19 testing on Wednesday and Thursday for individuals who recently participated in large gatherings in support of Black Lives Matter.

The testing took place in Harwich Port, Provincetown, and Wellfleet.

“We haven’t finished completely counting the total tests but we know that we’ve crafted across the three sites at least 1,000,” said CEO of Outer Cape Health Services, Patricia Nadle.

Nadle added that Harwich Port was the busiest site of the three.

Due to the number of tests performed, OCHS is expecting to see results in five to six days.  

According to Cyr, Whole Health Pharmacy in Hyannis is providing free on demand testing through a federal grant.

Testing capabilities at Cape Cod Healthcare remain strong.

Cape Cod Healthcare has a four hour turnaround time on tests.

They are also doing more than 700 tests a day.  

“We have a facility at Cape Cod Community College which we ultimately transition over to our campus in Hyannis which we are beginning to set up now,” said Cape Cod Healthcare CEO Michael Lauf.

“We are currently setting up a second testing site at our Falmouth Hospital campus right on the main campus which will be open next week and will provide 20 additional hours for people from the Upper Cape.”

Any person with a physician’s order, regardless of where the physician is located, can get tested at one of the Cape Cod Healthcare testing sites.

According to Lauf, as more test kits come to Cape Cod, Cape Cod Healthcare will be able to provide testing to more people.

Lauf said that the biggest challenge facing Cape Cod Healthcare is getting the most at risk people or symptomatic individuals tested.

“We are going to continue to work hard to get the necessary swabs and materials and also cartridges to be able to provide the tests on site,” said Lauf.

“We should be able to do as an organization upwards of 1,000 to 1,500 just ourselves and hopefully meet the goal that Senator Cyr described.”

The task force is also looking at having a rapid response team for testing.

“During the entire COVID-19 outbreak we did see some facilities come up where it was much easier to bring the testing to the facility then have everybody go to one of the testing sites,” said Barnstable County Health and Environment Director Sean O’Brien.

“What we would do is have it available should we have a cluster or one person with a lot of exposures and bring that out to a facility or a business to conduct testing pretty rapidly.”

The rapid response team is expect to be created in conjunction with fire departments across the Cape and Cape Cod Healthcare.

O’Brien added that Hyannis fire has experience in providing similar services.

For more information on the task force, click here.

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