More staff eyed for COVID testing

Staff manage their lab station in the drive-up COVID-19 testing site in December at the south end of the Samaritan Health and Wellness Plaza on outer Washington Street in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Jefferson County is asking the state for help in getting more residents tested for COVID-19, putting in a request for additional workers to staff Samaritan Medical Center’s free drive-up testing site.

The Samaritan Health and Wellness Plaza testing location, 1575 Washington St., is already a partnership between the county and the state Department of Health.

The goal is to provide more appointments and rapid testing for those who are symptomatic on top of free PCR testing, which is prioritized on a first-come, first-served basis. Any community member needing to be tested can be scheduled as long as supplies are available. Appointments must be made online at www.samaritanhealth.com/covid-test.

Capacity to test at the site is about 100 people a day. The slots fill up quickly, and Jefferson County Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, said he was told the site had around 200 appointments booked solid one day earlier this week. Additional staffing would allow the site to expand days of operation. The site is currently running from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. five days a week.

“We’re trying to operationalize it, to go two more days a week,” Mr. Gray said. “There’s such a need, and at this point, the state is standing up testing sites all over, so all we’re asking for is supplemental staff.”

Once patients arrive at the testing site, signs instruct them where to go, to keep car windows closed as they enter the garage bay, and to hold identification up to the window so intake staff can validate name and date of birth during appointment check-in. This is a fully drive-up process, meaning patients will never leave their vehicle.

The state partnership grants Samaritan access to a third-party laboratory service, BioReference, which will process the COVID-19 test specimens at no cost to patients or Samaritan.

According to Mr. Gray, the county has asked for antigen cards so the test site will have the ability to do rapid testing at the drive-thru site. Right now, it is just able to offer PCR testing.

On the vaccination front, the state has scheduled another walk-in booster clinic for the county at Jefferson Community College this Sunday, Mr. Gray said.

The clinic will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mr. Gray said it should be more adequately staffed than the last clinic held in December, which resulted in long lines and long wait times.

Both Pfizer and Moderna boosters are expected be available.

“The objective is to have initially a five-and-five setup, five vaccinators for each pharmaceutical,” Mr. Gray said of the upcoming clinic. “Last time we were supposed to have six vaccinators and only three showed up. This time we’re anticipating 10. And even if we have a drop-off of a couple, we still should be adequately staffed.”

Mr. Gray said the county is anticipating a fairly large turnout because of booster requirements for the medical and military communities.

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