Schenectady County community testing continues amid local COVID lull

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Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Schenectady County’s community COVID-19 testing program stands on the verge of collecting its 1,000th sample as it rolls into two new sites starting Thursday.

The program has been at a variety of locations since the county became involved on June 24, many of them designed to reach the ethnic and racial groups that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

For October, testing will be offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays at Summit Towers, 720 Albany St., and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays at SUNY Schenectady County’s west parking lot, 78 Washington Ave.

“We’ve tested 965 people total, 945 of those were negative as of yesterday,” interim county public health director Keith Brown said Wednesday.

The program began as a collaboration of Ellis Medicine, Hometown Health Centers and the county, then transitioned to a county effort. It used a rotating set of sites early on, then a different set, all identified by community leaders as locations that would be effective.

One of the first and longest-used sites was the parking lot of the Schenectady Islamic Center on Brandywine Avenue, Brown said, all through the summer.

It was also one of the most-used, he said, with samples collected from as many as 93 people in a single day. The Islamic Center’s offer of the parking lot was an important piece of the drive to reach the community members most vulnerable to COVID, he added.

“We’re doing a good job of reaching people we know are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus,” Brown said.

“We’re pretty proud of the effort.”

Statewide and nationwide, members of some minority groups have been infected and killed by COVID at a rate disproportionately higher than their percentage of the population.

The demographic breakdown of those tested by Schenectady County has been 44% white, 19% Black, 10% Asian, 9% Latino, 5% unknown, 4% Guyanese 3% multiracial, 2% east Indian, 2% other, 1% Native American and 1% West Indian.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Schenectady County’s population in 2010 was 72.5% non-Latino white, 12.7% Black, 7.4% Latino, 5.0% Asian and 3.8% multiracial.

The city of Schenectady itself, where the mobile community test sites are being set up, is more closely matched to the profile being seen at the test sites: 58.1% white, 20.8% Black, 10.4% Latino, 6.8% multiracial and 6.6% Asian, 2010 Census data show.

Brown couldn’t provide a cost figure for the testing program. It’s a bit of a moving target — there’s no out-of-pocket cost for those tested but the county does seek reimbursement if the person is covered by insurance. Also, the state provides assistance when there are spikes or clusters developing in the community.

That was the situation at times in July and August, when Schenectady County’s daily test results repeatedly came back positive at a much higher rate than the rest of the Capital Region and the state as a whole.

“We were concerned,” Brown said. “Those spikes were really from [August]. To the credit of the community and the credit of the staff of our department, we quickly identified those clusters.

“We also leaned on community leaders to get the word out to folks” on how to prevent spread of the disease.

The spikes were attributed mostly to people gathering without proper precautions.

To judge by a statewide database of test results maintained by the New York state Department of Health, the county response to the spikes of July and August was effective: Schenectady County had fewer than 10 confirmed new infections in 25 of the first 29 days of September.

The county’s positive test rate, a better measure of COVID activity, has been running at or below the statewide rate through September, and much lower in the past week.

The county is maintaining the community COVID testing program as autumn arrives and brings with it a new set of potential complicating factors — colder weather with more indoor activity, businesses reopening, schools back in session, flu season.

“We do have the resources necessary to quickly respond” to new spikes or clusters, Brown said.

The community testing on Mondays and Thursdays is weather-dependent; cancellations will be posted on the county’s website and Facebook page.

Capacity is limited; appointments are not required but are encouraged, and can be made by calling 518-419-0370.

The state meanwhile is dealing with infection clusters downstate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday he met with leaders of the orthodox Jewish community in New York City and its northern suburbs to address these spikes, which have been concentrated in ZIP codes heavily populated by orthodox Jews and have come during the Jewish High Holy Days.

Rockland County’s 10997 ZIP peaked at a 30% positive test rate on Sunday.

Statewide, the positive test rate on Tuesday was 1.02%; excluding the 20 ZIP codes with hotspots, the statewide positive rate was 0.82%.

Over the last seven days, Schenectady County’s positive test rate averaged 0.3%. It’s a potentially fleeting victory, vulnerable to factors both known and unforeseeable, but for now the county that recently had the highest positive rate in the Capital Region now has the lowest.

As originally published, this article incorrectly stated the days on which testing will be offered at Summit Towers. COVID tests are performed there on Mondays.

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