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Coronavirus Testing Ramps Up in N.H. But Challenges Remain


Testing capacity for coronavirus in New Hampshire is beginning to increase as the state and commercial testing providers ramp up their operations.

But as the number of available tests becomes less of an issue, other challenges to widespread testing in New Hampshire are likely to emerge.

On the larger end of the scale, the Manchester public health department, Catholic Medical Center, and Elliot Hospital are collaborating to operate a drive-through testing site at the National Guard Armory in Manchester.

It will only accept patients who are referred there by a doctor in the Manchester area. Anyone else will be turned away.

For Manchester residents for who don't have a primary care doctor, the city is offering a hotline -  668-1547 - which could help residents access the site. That hotline will be in operation until at least March 20th.

The drive-through Manchester testing site was originally set up by state public health workers last weekend. They provided training to local staff to take over operations.

An official in the mayor’s office said the site was able to collect 175 samples in one day earlier this week. Those samples are being run on test kits shipped by the CDC. The official said the continued supply of those kits will dictate whether they can maintain that pace of testing.

Primary care doctors begin testing

Meanwhile, smaller scale operations using commercially developed tests are beginning to take shape at some doctor’s offices.

Dr. Peter Loeser, who runs a family medicine practice in Concord, tested his first two patients on Tuesday.

Loeser said the patients were tested inside their vehicles in the parking lot of the office. “It worked perfectly,” said Loeser.

Loeser sent those samples to Quest Diagnostics, one of the national reference laboratories that have developed their own COVID-19 test. Quest says it is accepting samples for coronavirus testing from providers nationwide.

But Loeser is still limited in the number of tests he can run, not by a shortage of kits, but by his supply of the special swab needed to collect the patient’s sample.

Loeser relayed a conversation he had with a representative of Quest.

“She said ‘a lot of clinics don’t have [the special swab], but we’re going to be shipping them to people.’ Fortunately, we had nine of them. So I put a rubber around them, put them aside, and said ‘don’t use these for anything else. We’ve got to conserve these.’”

That means he’s still being cautious about which patients he tests.

“We are not simply saying 'oh if you're concerned about coronavirus, we'll test you.' We're definitely not saying that.”

Loeser says for otherwise healthy patients who are experiencing mild symptoms, knowing definitively whether they have COVID-19 is not a priority.

“A positive test is not going to change my management of that patient,” said Loeser.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.

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