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'It's all COVID' | Maine doctors say record numbers of people getting tested amid strain of supplies

Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said the demand for COVID-19 testing, such as nose swabs, is outpacing the supplies.

BANGOR, Maine — Doctors at Northern Light Health said they are seeing record-breaking numbers for COVID-19 testing in the last two weeks. 

Dr. James Jarvis said the hospital system is testing between 1,000 and 1,300 patients per day. He said the positivity rate among tests performed at hospital system locations is 11% or more than 1 in every 10 people tested are infected with COVID-19.

"It's all COVID," Dr. Jarvis said. "That's a huge number and a huge jump in what we're talking about for overall cases per 100,000 than we had seen previously."

The increased demand for a COVID test comes as parts of the state struggle to get testing supplies. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said during a media briefing on Wednesday that people may have to wait longer or travel farther than they wish to get a test.

"None of that is acceptable in the midst of a pandemic, and one of our team's top priorities right now is to expand access to testing more broadly across the state," said Dr. Shah.

Dr. Jarvis said staffing of testing sites, not supply chain concerns, are driving the delays in getting appointments, particularly at the swab-and-send locations.

Stan Schofield, president of NorDx Laboratories, provided the following in a statement:

"The NorDx supply chain, materials, and equipment for daily testing for the citizens of Maine/New Hampshire is not a problem.

[MaineHealth is] averaging 1700 tests per day. We are testing 7 days per week, 24 hours per day. In January, we were testing 4,000 per day, which included residents and businesses in coastal New Hampshire.

Collection sites are available by appointment in MaineHealth hospitals and at eight NorDx patient service centers across the region."

Some people looking for more convenient options may choose an at-home or over-the-counter COVID-19 test, but Dr. Jarvis warned that those tests are not as accurate as hospital tests.

"We know they, unfortunately, have a higher rate of false positives and false negatives, so it's hard to rely solely on those tests," said Dr. Jarvis. 

The Maine CDC also does not include those at-home tests in their reporting numbers.

Robert Long, a CDC spokesperson wrote in a statement:

"Unless the individual using an at-home test reports the results to us, that result would not be included in our data reporting. As noted on the Maine CDC COVID-19 webpage, the testing information posted there reflects results reported electronically, because results reported via paper or other methods often do not include negative results, the absence of which affects positivity rate calculations.

Anyone who gets a positive result from an at-home test should stay home, contact their medical provider, and call 1-800-821-5821.

With a nationwide increase in demand for COVID-19 tests, manufacturers have not been able to keep up with rising demand for rapid-results test kits and over-the-counter test kits. We are awaiting details from the Biden administration on how the plans he announced last Thursday will affect availability of over-the-counter tests in Maine. The supply chain strain on over-the-counter tests has not affected testing associated with outbreaks or supplies for pooled testing in schools."

Watch Dr. Javis' full interview: