Uptick in Testing

VERMONT - For the last several weeks, the State of Vermont has experienced an increase in COVID cases. An uptick in positive cases generally means there is an increase in appointments being made to get tested. The Northeast Kingdom is no exception, as there has been a high percentage of residents getting swabbed for COVID.

Northern Vermont Regional Hospital and Northern Counties Health Care testing locations serve a good chunk of the Northeast Kingdom. NCHC has three testing sites in the Northeast Kingdom, St. Johnsbury, Island Pond, and Hardwick, while NVRH has one at the hospital. Healthcare workers have said there has been quite an abundance of cars coming through these testing lots.

At NCHC, each site has four hours of testing times that are split into ten-minute appointments. Four appointments can be scheduled for the same time. All testing locations also offer walk-ins, although appointments are preferred. Each testing location can have up to 90 appointments a day.

"We have certainly seen a big uptick in the last two to three weeks. That's been notable, our busiest location in St. Johnsbury on Sherman drive, we can see as many as 225 tests in a day." NCHC Primary Care Director Daniel Sherman said. These numbers reign true for all locations for both NVRH and NCHC. Sherman shared that the numbers were high in the month of September once school was back in session. Appointments went down in October, but when November hit, the appointment load had grown past the average capacity.

Sherman explained that even though there is an uptick, his staff has done a great job of handling the high demand. "We typically have four to five staff running the site. People are walking up to each car with a clipboard, and saying please be patient. Our teams really have this process down." NCHC also wants residents to know they have never turned any walk-ins away; they will always find time to fit anyone in. For NVRH, though, it's been a little more difficult.

NVRH's Laura Newell, who works with Operations, says there have been some changes made to keep up with the moving cars. Last week's testing times were the worst for NVRH as they saw more than 180 tests coming through their site each day. They even had to turn away walk-ins due to short staffing, and from the abundance of cars, the hospital had to redirect their traffic flow. "You can't see it from the front of the building, but when cars get around the backside of the building, there is someone there directing traffic. There's also signs, and we split them into two lines. We put them in a walk in line, then an appointment line," Newell explained.

She also expressed that it has been difficult to deal with people due to the lack of patience, but the hospital is doing their best. "We know how super frustrating it is. Just the whole process of getting tested is nerve racking and having to sit in line."

Dr. Rousse at NVRH says he believes COVID cases will continue to grow, along with testing needs, especially now with all businesses having their unvaccinated employees tested more often. NVRH has been looking into the possibility of pushing more testing sites out into the community.

To make an appointment for a COVID test, you can go onto the Health Department's website if you are experiencing any symptoms.