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New site opens as COVID-19 testing expands

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PUTNEY — A parking lot at Landmark College is the latest site where potential COVID-19 patients can provide samples to be tested for the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Chad Spooner, director of field operations for the Vermont Department of Health, did not have an estimate on how many people he expects to see at the drive-through site.

"So far today, we've seen six," he said at about 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

He was joined by 11 members of the Vermont National Guard for the first day of operations in the Landmark parking lot.

Lt. Col. Miles Trudell, commander of the 15th Civil Support Team said his group "never works alone."

"We always work with a state partner," he said. "And we're more than happy to be working with the Department of Health to address this issue."

Parking Lot D accessed from Charles Drake Lane is being used for drive-through COVID-19 testing for people with medical orders to receive a test. Individuals being tested remain in their vehicles.

Trudell described the site as having a check-in station where individuals drive up and register before nasal swab samples are taken by personnel. The samples are handled and transported to another person who verifies all the data on the package before someone else stores them to be tested later. Other personnel are handling information technology and administrative matters onsite.

Personal protective equipment is being worn, Trudell said. That includes powered air-purifying respirators, Tyvek suits and nitrile gloves.

Spooner said the samples will go to a University of Vermont laboratory to be assigned degrees of urgency. Testing will then be done by UVM, the health department's lab in Colchester or a third party.

The Vermont Department of Health asked Landmark to host a site "to help ease shortages in testing capabilities in our region," states an email from Landmark to the college community and town of Putney.

"The Department of Health assures us that drive-through testing poses no risk to those who are on the Landmark College campus," the email states. "The College's Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) approved the request in an effort to help health officials 'flatten the curve' of COVID-19 by providing space for such testing, similar to a site set up at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital's parking lot. Landmark College is eager to serve this important public health cause during this unprecedented situation."

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Landmark said those conducting tests will have no access to buildings on campus. The testing area will be "indicated by signage and traffic cones," and law enforcement officials will be on site to ensure only individuals with medical orders receive testing, states the email.

Students and others on the campus are asked to stay out of Parking Lot D for the duration of testing. Landmark said the Guard anticipates testing could be conducted in the lot for up to seven days.

Hours of operations will be 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In a news release Saturday, the Department of Health said the site is "an important addition to statewide testing efforts." Local residents are providing samples at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, and Springfield Hospital announced Sunday that it would be reopening its drive-through testing site with the goal of testing all patients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

With more supplies available now, the state is looking to test more patients with mild to moderate symptoms, according to the health department's release. Referrals from health care providers are still needed.

The state's strategy is to "test, counsel and isolate patients who test positive, conduct contact tracing and quarantine as clinically appropriate," Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said in the release. The goal is to limit the spread of the 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," Levine said. "We are sincerely grateful for the work of our entire health care establishment, and for the support being provided by our National Guard."

Last week, the Vermont National Guard announced it would be helping set up medical "surge" sites in the northern parts of the state where the number of infected residents have been higher. The Guard said those sites will be used to care for "low acuity patients who can be moved from a hospital facility safely."

As of Sunday, Vermont recorded 235 positive test results out of 3,701 tests conducted and 12 deaths.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.

Related coverage: 

-- National Guard opens COVID-19 testing site in Putney


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