County awaits testing devices

Nurses hand an information pamphlet to a patient at the Samaritan COVID-19 testing site in Watertown. Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — St. Lawrence County still has not received two COVID-19 testing machines, nearly a month after officials said they would be delivered.

Three weeks after St. Lawrence County broke its previous record for average new cases per day per 100,000 residents, the county Board of Legislators pushed through a resolution to purchase two testing machines in order to bolster local processing capacity and thus turnaround time on COVID-19 tests. After more than 2,000 positive COVID-19 cases later, those machines still haven’t been delivered.

On Nov. 23, the Board of Legislators preliminarily approved in committee the purchase of two PCR testing machines from Rheonix, an Ithaca-based company, for $100,000. At the time, County Administrator Ruth A. Doyle said, given the preliminary approval, the purchasing office could get the order on Rheonix’s waiting list for the machines with anticipated delivery of mid-December.

“Should we be able to, following committee tonight, make the request to get in the queue, so to speak, that we could potentially see these in the middle of December,” Ms. Doyle told the board.

Two weeks later on Dec. 7, when the resolution was given final approval at the full board meeting, Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, indicated that Ms. Doyle said the company confirmed the machines would be delivered by the end of the month.

“Since the Board of Legislators approved the purchase of two machines on December 7th, we have been working closely with Rheonix to secure delivery, and training to each of the hospital systems. We believe that Rheonix has made every effort to get St. Lawrence County the testing equipment as quickly as their process will allow,” Ms. Doyle said in an email.

Ms. Doyle didn’t give a reason for the delay and said she would share the delivery dates when they became available.

Amanda Hitterman, interim executive director of marketing and external relations at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg, which will receive one of the two machines, indicated the expected delivery date was Jan. 18, a month later than first expected.

St. Lawrence Health System, which will receive the other Rheonix machine, noted in a press release earlier this week that it had also not yet received the device.

“I think this is a really great example of us working together, as we often do, but for something that came about very quickly and will have an immediate impact once these machine are in place,” Legislator Margaret G. Haggard, D-Potsdam, who co-sponsored the legislation to purchase the machines, said before it was passed in December.

Each Rheonix machine can process about 88 PCR, the most reliable, COVID-19 tests per day, according to Dr. Andrew F. Williams, president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health. Since November, both St. Lawrence Health System and Claxton-Hepburn have been ramping up their capacity to process tests locally. In the months prior, PCR test samples had to be transported from the respective collection site to a lab as far away as Boston to actually process them for results. This resulted in waiting times as long as 10 days, Dr. Williams said last month.

St. Lawrence Health System purchased seven of their own Rheonix testing machines, which officials indicated are on hand and operational, theoretically capable of processing more than 600 samples per day. Ms. Hitterman said that Claxton-Hepburn has a capacity to process 300 to 500 tests per day.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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