Lewis County’s free COVID-19 testing clinic to close

LOWVILLE — The free COVID-19 testing site in Lewis County will close on July 1.

The community testing site, funded by the county and held at the Lewis County Health System’s main campus on North State Street in Lowville, has been functioning throughout the pandemic.

The site has been operating at the county General Hospital through a partnership with the Public Health Department and county funding after the state Department of Health briefly took over the operation in December when the omicron variant of the coronavirus caused infections in the county to surge. The clinic was located at the Maple Ridge Center on East Road at that time.

The state ended its phase of operating the site on Feb. 23, and the county reopened drive-up testing Feb. 28.

Drive-up testing was first established at the health system with state funding during the early stages of the pandemic in July 2020.

Because of the increase in demand and spread of the disease, the testing effort was moved to Maple Ridge in November of that year.

The estimated cost of the first 52 weeks the testing site was open was about $619,000, from 2020 until a temporary closure in July 2021 when the New York’s state of emergency was rescinded along with the funding attached to that declaration.

The site has served residents and anyone who works or attends school in the county with free COVID-19 testing by the nursing staff working at the site — despite difficult conditions, especially at the Maple Ridge location which had a “wind-tunnel” effect that created frigid conditions and, at times, fire hazards with the portable heaters meant to help the nurses stay warm.

Since the testing returned to the county providence, 9,014 tests were processed in the 10 months of 2021 through the Bioreference laboratory used by the health system. This year, there was a fraction of that amount — 940 — in the past six months, according to the health system’s spokesperson.

“The current number being seen now can be absorbed by existing infrastructure,” said health system CEO Gerald R. Cayer. “If needed, we can ‘flex-up” for a surge in the fall.”

Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms should see their primary health care provider to have a testing appointment scheduled at the health center.

Instructions on pre-surgical testing at the facility are provided by the office performing the surgery and those requiring testing before procedures outside of the health system can have it arranged by their surgeon or primary care provider.

Testing is also done locally at pharmacies, including Kinney Drugs and Walgreens, by scheduling an appointment online.