The Maine swab-and-send COVID-19 tests have significantly improved. Lincoln Medical Partners Emergency Medicine Doctor Timothy Fox said testing criteria have broadened to people who want the test, if they have symptoms or have none. Fox also said the nasopharyngeal (NP) test has finally been replaced by a mid-turbinate test both of which are polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based tests with comparable accuracy.
The mid-turbinate test requires a swab to enter the nostril about 2 cm; the NP swabs went in 4-6 cm. Fox said having had both, there is a difference in comfort level. “The (mid-turbinate) is a nasal swab test … like the NP swabs. That's the deep one that people called the ‘brain biopsy swab.’”
Fox said the swab-and-send testing has involved cooperation among hospitals across Maine and from different networks, but the greatest need for the state was to bring more testing to western and Midcoast Maine. Fox said that is why LincolnHealth has partnered with Mid-Coast Parkview Hospital and Pen Bay Medical Center and worked out a schedule keeping testing going all week long throughout the Midcoast.
However, COVID-19 tests are not all created equally. Fox said there are three paths to getting tested: existing MaineHealth patients have access through their provider, anyone can access the free swab-and-send testing by appointment, or people can pay out of pocket at participating pharmacies and/or through NorDx Labs.
Fox said the NP tests are not necessarily gone for good. With a negative mid-turbinate but high clinical suspicion of a case, doctors may order the NP test. He also said MaineHealth is not doing antigen testing with or in lieu of either PCR test. “We have stuck with using the gold-standard test which is the PCR test to look for the actual viral RNA. It's a more accurate test. It’s less false-positive, less false-negative.”
Testing capacity for the swab-and-send program is over 400 tests per day in the MaineHealth network, said Fox.
The week ending Oct. 11 saw four positive cases or 0.9% throughout MaineHealth while LincolnHealth had no positive tests after a positivity rate of 0.5% the week before.
As of Oct. 12, MaineHealth had one patient admitted with COVID-19 and none in the Intensive Care Units.
“That's a good sign. It doesn't mean we don't have viral activity in the state. We definitely do … but (last week) the percent positive was zero and out of the 240 people with symptoms that very well may have been COVID, there were no positives.”
Local options for the swab-and-send test are at Mid-Coast Parkview Hospital in Brunswick (207-373-6699), LincolnHealth Miles Campus in Damariscotta (563-4353), and Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport (207-301-3040). All swab-and-send visits are by appointment only.
All Northern Light hospitals, including the Mobile Testing Unit in South Portland, are swab-and-send sites: Pittsfield, Dover-Foxcroft, Waterville, Ellsworth, Greenville, Blue Hill, Presque Isle and Portland. Other sites are Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent, Westbrook Public Safety, Franklin Community Health in Farmington, Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor, MaineGeneral in Augusta, Western Maine Health Care in Norway, Bass Park Drive Through in Bangor, Brewer Community Health Center, Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln, Helen Hunt Health Center in Old Town, Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, Belfast Community Health Center, Calais Regional Hospital, and Nasson Health Care in Sanford.
This article has been corrected since its original posting.