5-27-20 COVID test

Ethan Lemieux, a Memorial Hospital, R.N., demonstrates a COVID-19 test Wednesday on fellow R.N. Derek Trahanial. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

CONWAY — The state of New Hampshire is expanding its COVID-19 testing criteria to include household members of anyone in a high-risk category for contracting the disease, as well as to people who work at child-care centers.

Another category is due to be added Friday: “employees who cannot avoid prolonged close contact with peers or the general public.”

In the state's latest statistics released Tuesday, out of 55,000 people who were tested for the virus, and 7,835 who were tested for antibodies (indicating they were exposed to the infection in the past), 3,935 people in New Hampshire have tested positive for the virus.

About 45 percent of those who tested positive (1,767 people) are now listed  as recovered.

The state has reported 46 cases in Carroll County, with the most recent being added May 21. Five cases have been reported in Coos County, with the most recent being reported a day ago.

Twelve cases have been identified through North Conway's Memorial Hospital, with the last one reported April 15.

Locally, positive test numbers remain low, though they have increased since the state set up a New Hampshire National Guard testing site in Tamworth at the beginning of May.

Although some Tamworth residents were fearful to have the site at Troop E, Tamworth Community Nurse Joanne Rainville said most welcomed it.

“For the most part, people are very glad to have it here as a resource. We’ve had a lot of people taking advantage of it. I would like to see more of that,” she said.

The Tamworth site is one of nine run by the National Guard in New Hampshire. The state has also partnered with ClearChoiceMD to provide antibody testing. Its nearest sites are in Alton and Lincoln.

A visit to the Lincoln site last Wednesday found a short waiting line to get through the testing process, which included driving up to two different trailers parked at the Lincoln Recreational Area.

ClearChoiceMD medical assistant Sara Mooney said the previous week, when the site first opened, about 100 people were being tested each day. “This week, we’re averaging between 60 and 80 a day right now.”

If people seen at the Lincoln site have active symptoms, they are directed to Littleton Hospital for evaluation.

Joseph Sicard, director of clinical operations and chief compliance officer with ClearChoiceMD, said people are concerned about whether the test will hurt and/or possibly being exposed to the virus when they come for testing.

But, he said, "It's not uncomfortable.

"We do an anterior nasal swab," he said, explaining that patients are guided to swab the front part of the inside of their own noses.

Sicard said both the real-time PCR test used to identify current infections and the IGG antibody test are 91-100 percent effective.

In terms of any risk, he said, "We are using appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment), and we sanitize each station between each patient."

Sicard said ClearChoiceMD patients should expect to spend about an hour getting a test.

Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, said she went to a ClearChoiceMD testing site in Alton about three weeks ago and had an antibody test done there.

She also went to Tamworth and had a live virus test done.

Both tests came out negative.

She said she got tested in part to be able to tell people about the testing and in part to find out if flu-like symptoms she had had during the winter were from COVID-19.

The Tamworth process was much quicker, she said, adding that was able to register in advance online.

In addition to finding out if a flu-like illness was COVID, testing is also important to identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic cases, Sicard said, since up to 30 percent of those testing positive show no symptoms.

Memorial continues to take samples for testing, but unlike the National Guard sites, the hospital only tests those with severe symptoms of a respiratory infection or who meet other limited criteria, such as pregnancy.

Memorial Director of Communications Tim Kershner estimated that an average of about 10-20 samples were collected daily over the past week.

In announcing expanded testing last week, Gov. Chris Sununu said, “We really want to open it up as much as possible to allow folks to get that test and give them the piece of mind of whether they are working with COVID or not.”

Officials also say that testing helps get more accurate data on which to base plans for reopening the economy.

“Our testing is really making a huge difference,” said State Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette last Wednesday, adding that the state now averages over 2,000 tests a day for the PCR tests, and over 680 per day for the antibody tests.

In order to sign up to get tested at one of the nine state testing sites, people can go to nh.gov/covid19 and click on the “COVID Testing Registration Form” link.

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