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Maine COVID-19 testing sites see surge in demand, turn people away

As the number of cases of the coronavirus continues to climb and the holidays near, more and more people are finding it hard to get tested.

WESTBROOK, Maine — COVID-19 testing sites across the state are reporting a spike in demand as the virus continues to surge.

Testing volume has increased more than 50 percent over the last three weeks, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC).

"The volume of people is continuing to rise each and every day," Westbrook Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte said. 

The city's drive-thru "swab and send" site is booked up for nearly two weeks despite the fact it is open 10 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Turcotte said they have even had to turn people away. 

"We continue to get calls on a daily basis to two more testing," he said. "We have individuals that call that because they can't get in here for a week. We try to lead them to another test site locally, and what they're finding is it's really difficult to get into those test sites as well."

RELATED: US hospitals overwhelmed with new coronavirus cases

That is the case for almost all of the state-sponsored testing sites in Maine. 

Gov. Jane Mills opened up testing to anyone without the need for a doctor's referral in September. 

Health experts say the ongoing rise in cases and the upcoming holiday are to blame for the sudden high demand. 

"As this surge has increased certainly the demand for testing has skyrocketed," MaineHealth's Dr. Dora Mills told NEWS CENTER Maine. "So we are assessing that every day, every week to make sure our testing capacity stays robust."

The Maine CDC has also reported a swell in the number of tests it is processing.

Dr. Nirav Shah told reporters Wednesday they are maintaining a one-day turnaround once a test is in their hands and they are not yet "overwhelmed."

RELATED: CDC recommends Americans don't travel for Thanksgiving amid rise in COVID-19 cases

As for the pressure on small testing sites statewide and access for citizens, officials downplayed any concern at Wednesday's press briefing.

"We do remain at the top, or second to top in the nation, in terms of testing capacity for our targeted need, so we do have more testing than not, but we appreciate the fact that especially with Thanksgiving coming it may be harder to find a test," Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said.

DHHS announced Thursday it plans to open 52 additional testing sites across Maine through Walgreens starting this week. This is an addition to another 10 locations that opened last week. 

RELATED: Walgreens to open 52 more coronavirus testing sites across Maine

The pharmacy locations will offer free drive-through rapid antigen testing to those who experience symptoms. 

The U.S. CDC does not recommend testing unless the following apply:

  • People who have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • People who have had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more) with someone with confirmed COVID-19.
  • People who have been asked or referred to get testing by their healthcare provider, local external icon or state health department.

Not everyone needs to be tested. If you do get tested, you should self-quarantine/isolate at home pending test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional.

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