After receiving more kits to test for COVID-19, the Vermont Department of Health, working with the medical division of the Vermont National Guard Civil Support Team, has set up operations at Landmark College in Putney, collecting samples for testing from patients who have been referred by a medical professional.

In a news release, Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont health department, said, “early and broad testing is a proven strategy to limit the spread of this virus.”

“Vermont is still early enough on the curve of positive cases that increased testing can have a large impact on our ability to flatten that curve. We are sincerely grateful for the work of our entire health care establishment, and for the support being provided by our National Guard,” said Levine.

Like the leaders of other states, Vermont officials have been trying to “flatten the curve” of the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19. More testing would help, but Vermont had a very limited supply of testing kits until the state’s “efforts to aggressively procure supplies” allowed medical officials to expand its priorities to not just health care workers who are symptomatic, patients who are hospitalized, residents of long-term care facility, and other high-priority groups, but to patients with mild to moderate symptoms who are referred by a doctor or medical professional.

Levine said the health department was aware the supply of testing kids could drop in the future.

“The steady increase in positive cases in Vermont, along with the growing number of people who are ill and who, tragically, have died from the virus, mean that while we will draw on our supplies more quickly, the benefit of “more testing now” significantly outweighs the risk that we may have to slow these efforts again later, he said.

Ben Truman, spokesman for the health department, said the data globally, around the United States and in Vermont, shows the “more testing you can do, the more you can find out early about where the virus is and how it’s moving.”

“It informs everyone’s ability to respond. Where do you need to focus your resources? Where do you need to respond? What are you finding and seeing about this? One of the lessons that you can read about nationally in countries where widespread and broad testing was done, when you see what’s out there and you can act quickly, it gives you a better ability to help forestall spread of the virus than if you don’t have this full picture of where it and how it’s spreading,” he said.

Truman said the staff at the health department was hopeful the supply of testing kits would not be “pinched off” again, but said even if that happens, aggressive testing now could provide valuable information toward the state’s efforts to reduced the spread.

Capt. Mikel Arcovitch, public affairs officer for the Vermont National Guard, said the guard was providing a Civil Support Team with 11 soldiers and airmen working from a mobile laboratory at Landmark College and operating an “extraction site.”

“They’re taking samples from Vermonters or from patients and they’re handing the samples over to the Vermont Department of Health, whose bringing them up to the lab for testing,” he said.

With one laboratory, the Vermont National Guard can only support one site at a time, but because the laboratory is in a truck, arrangements could be made to relocate to another site in the state.

Asked how the Putney site was chosen, Truman followed up in an email.

“As part of our emergency preparedness planning, Landmark College is one of the numerous places throughout the state pre-identified for where efforts like the testing effort can happen. We have lists of potential needs – for example, locations for medical points of distribution. So in this instance, when we needed to locate a testing location in that area, Landmark was already pre-screened and (was a site) for which a (Memorandum of Understanding) was already in place,” Truman wrote.

The site at the college in Putney is the latest addition to the increasing number of temporary pop-up, drive-through to help ensure as many Vermonters as possible can be tested. The health department promised over the weekend that providers will be updated as these sites become operational.

The Landmark testing site will operate from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. throughout the week. The hours, and for how many days the site is open, will depend on the availability of testing supplies.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com

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