WATERTOWN — With the COVID-19 positivity rate high across the region, the New York State Department of Health has partnered with Jefferson County to open a free testing location at Samaritan’s drive-up testing site, 1575 Washington St.

Appointments will initially be offered from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The site will be closed Tuesdays and Sundays, though this schedule is subject to change. Free PCR COVID-19 testing will be prioritized on a first-come, first-served basis and any community member with an interest to be tested can be scheduled as long as supplies are available. Appointments must be made online at: www.samaritanhealth.com/covid-test.

“For us, it’s very rewarding and feels very much like a success, we have been advocating for free testing all along,” said Leslie M. DiStefano, director of communication and public relations at Samaritan. “Obviously, we did lose our free testing location in July. We continued to run the drive-up location because we were testing symptomatic and our surgical patients, but I think being able to offer that option where it doesn’t matter what your insurance is, it doesn’t matter why you’re coming to be tested, just to know that you can be tested is very rewarding for us.”

On Monday, the first day the site was back offering free testing, it saw about 40 people, according to Mrs. DiStefano. As of 10 a.m. Monday, there were roughly 40 more scheduled for the rest of the week so far.

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 and the site is not for walk-in traffic.

Samaritan’s drive-up location was a state free testing location once before, from July 2020 through July 2021.

Test results are available within three to seven days, as this is not rapid testing. However, PCR testing is the most accurate test available, and it is recommended that any person with COVID-19 symptoms have a PCR test done. Community members who provide a cell phone number and email will be notified of their negative results via text message and email message; all positive results will be provided by public health.

“We’re just very pleased to be able to pick it back up very quickly,” Mrs. DiStefano said of the free testing. “We just heard from the state late last week and we were able to make this happen very fast. Our hope is that people will be tested, be proactive, so that we can stop the spread.”

The state partnership allows Samaritan access to a third-party laboratory service, BioReference, which will process the COVID-19 test specimens at no cost to patients or Samaritan. The state provides additional testing supplies and test kits to Samaritan, and Samaritan provides the staff needed to collect the specimens.

Capacity to test at the site is about 150 people a day, but 50 of them are reserved for surgical patients and those that are symptomatic calling Samaritan’s resource line, Mrs. DiStefano said.

Samaritan still wants people who are symptomatic to call the resource line, (315) 555-3100, to schedule an appointment. For all others, whether asymptomatic or just not sure, they’re encouraged to go online and make an appointment.

Mrs. DiStefano said another hope from this endeavor is it will help to divert some traffic away from emergency departments, or even having to call a physician’s office trying to get a test. This offers a very easy option to go online and schedule the appointment yourself. That way, you’re getting a test done immediately and not having to wait, and you’re also not having to worry about if insurance pays or if uninsured, how will you pay for it.

“We’re very thankful for Jefferson County’s support and the state really listening to us and advocating on our behalf to make this happen very quickly,” Mrs. DiStefano said. “We’re very pleased that we are able to do this and offer this again to our area, it’s really important as we see those numbers increase.”

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