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Cary Medical Center becomes first County hospital to offer in-house COVID-19 testing

CARIBOU, Maine — Cary Medical Center announced on May 28 that the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the hospital for in-house COVID-19 testing as the first County hospital with such a designation.

The state nod means that people tested at Cary will have results within hours rather than days because the results are determined at the Caribou hospital.

Currently only patients admitted to Cary and other Aroostook County hospitals who meet the Maine CDC criteria for COVID-19 testing can have their samples run through Cary’s in-house testing. Cary Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Regen Gallagher, D.O., said this is because testing supplies are limited.

Gallagher said that although the state’s CDC has done an excellent job returning test results quickly, in-house testing will allow the hospital to get test results in four-six hours rather than the 24-48 hours when sent to the state.

Cary Medical Center Communications Coordinator Elizabeth Singer said the prompt turn-around for tests will help patients quarantine sooner and prevent further spread in the region.

The hospital is utilizing polymerase chain reaction testing, which is among the dominant testing methods for the virus.

The test involves taking a mucous sample from a patient’s nose or throat and determining if it contains the same genetic material as the virus. The PCR test will amplify this material if the virus is present.

“If a sample is tested on our PCR testing platform we result it and results are also transmitted to the Maine CDC for counting in the statewide numbers,” said Gallagher. “If a sample will be tested by the Maine CDC, then we physically transport the sample by courier to them for testing. Transit time between here and Augusta is a big part of the longer turn-around time for tests sent to the Maine CDC compared to tests that are run in-house.”

As of June 4 the hospital has run 88 in-house tests.

Karen Stackhouse, R.N., primary charge nurse of the Cary lab, said the hospital is only testing patients admitted to the hospital, or who are being transferred to another facility. She said Cary is also helping other area hospitals by providing testing for them as well.

The PCR testing that CMC is performing is the same that is used by the Maine CDC and other
independent labs.

“The shorter turn-around time for PCR testing performed in-house allows us to save critically needed PPE supplies,” she said.

People showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 are advised to first call their doctor, but if the symptoms are severe, such as having difficulty breathing, they should call 911.

Gallagher said if anyone meets other Maine CDC criteria for COVID-19 sample collection, then it is recommended that they call their physician for \advice.

“We are working to build up our supply of cartridges and other testing materials, so that we can
provide testing to more patients as the restrictions are lifted,” said Stackhouse.

Gallagher said she and hospital staff anticipate that the availability of PCR testing supplies will continue to improve over the coming weeks and months.

“As this happens we plan to bring more and more testing of locally collected samples online to be completed in-house, rather than sending them to the CDC,” she said. “This will allow for a much quicker turnaround time for results for anyone who meets Maine CDC guidelines for having a sample collected to be tested.”

Cary Medical Center regularly posts COVID-19 updates and daily testing results at
www.carymedicalcenter.org.
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