Online self-reporting options for positive at-home COVID tests rolling out rapidly

A link to a reporting portal is available on the Montgomery County website.

A link to a reporting portal is available on the Montgomery County website.

CAPITAL REGION — The proliferation of at-home COVID-19 tests is increasingly leading counties in the region to launch online portals where residents can self-report positive results and automatically receive isolation instructions to ease the strain on public health departments.

Montgomery County Public Health Director Sara Boerenko on Tuesday announced the launch of an online portal where county residents can self-report positive results from at-home COVID-19 test kits.

The Montgomery County homepage features a link to report home tests in red letters that takes residents to another page where the link to the portal can be found midway down reading, “REPORT YOUR POSITIVE RESULT.”

Residents can input their information into the secure and confidential website for transmission to the Montgomery County Public Health Department. Afterwards, they will receive an automated report with isolation and quarantine protocols. The self-reporting site should only be used for results of positive at-home tests, not from tests performed in clinical settings or testing sites.

Boerenko on Tuesday said the new portal will provide a streamlined way for residents to quickly receive guidance after testing positive using an at-home kit without having to call the health department. The reliability of at-home tests has become increasingly accepted and most residents will not require additional testing unless recommended by a doctor or required before returning to work by an employer, she noted.

This will enable residents to more readily determine the length of their isolation period and when they can resume their normal daily activities much sooner than having to wait for a response from the seven county staffers who field over 500 calls each day about COVID-19, Boerenko said.

The call volume outpaces infections. A total of 365 residents tested positive for the coronavirus in the last seven days, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Boerenko said the idea for the portal came from frequent sharing with Saratoga County Commissioner of Health Dr. Daniel Kuhles and the need to reconcile limited resources at the health department in anticipation of a possible further influx of calls when distribution of at-home tests from the state begins.

After seeing the success Saratoga County has had with its already active online tool, Boerenko encouraged Montgomery County to launch its own portal. Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort supported the idea and thanked county staff for its rapid implementation within less than a week to prepare for the expected rush of at-home tests.

“Doing this portal streamlines the process and makes it efficient. That way people put in the information and get all the information they need,” Ossenfort said. “If there was no portal tracking and processing that information, it would have been close to impossible.”

RAPID GROWTH

Concerns that health department staff could be overwhelmed as the use of at-home tests becomes more prevalent are unsurprising given the experience of some counties in the region. Albany County Director of Communications Mary Rozak said the online self-reporting portal for at-home tests launched last week has already been used by over 800 residents.

Albany County is encouraging residents who take at-home tests to report positive results through the portal and follow the isolation protocols posted online. Anyone with symptoms is encouraged to call their healthcare provider. They should not call the public health department.

“The simple fact of the matter is, the virus is spreading across the state and country at alarming numbers with positive cases,” Rozak said. “For us to speak to everyone is very time-consuming.”

A total of 3,071 Albany County residents have tested positive for the coronavirus over the last seven days, according to data from the CDC.

The statewide surge in coronavirus cases as the omicron variant spreads led to the reopening of a number of state testing sites on Tuesday, including two locally, one at Crossgates Mall and the other at SUNY Albany’s uptown campus.

Rozak pointed to at-home test kits as another tool to help identify positive cases and stop the spread. Providing residents a method to report the positive results of at-home tests is critical to accurately determine the level of infection in the community.

“If there is a test, but no portal to report to, what do people do,” Rozak said. “Otherwise you have that situation where you may have a positive person and nowhere to report that. There was no agent for us to capture that. We created the portal so there would be a way, because there was nothing the state had that could record that.”

Schenectady County has also launched an online portal for self-reporting positive results of at-home tests accessible through its website.

AT-HOME TESTS COMING

While at-home tests have previously been available for purchase, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recently announced plan to deliver at-home test kits to school districts and counties for free distribution got underway this week.

Montgomery County has received 1,700 test kits that will be offered to residents during four upcoming distribution events. The kits will only be available by appointments scheduled online. The first distribution will take place at the Montgomery County Annex Building on Thursday.

Although the kits are available to anyone in the community, Boerenko acknowledged the county with roughly 49,000 residents received an extremely limited initial supply.

“I am hopeful that this is just the first wave of test kits being distributed much like when vaccine doses were given and they were rolled out in small amounts. I’m hoping that’s what they are doing with the test kits, rolling them out in small numbers and it will ramp up,” Boerenko said.

Boerenko pointed to the at-home tests as another tool to help prevent the spread of the virus that could be used by residents before attending a planned event or anyone who wakes up with symptoms.

“They can determine if they change the course of the day based on their infection status,” Boerenko said.

Even as the distribution of test kits begins, Boerenko said the health department will continue to focus on vaccinating the community. Approximately 63.5% of the total county population is currently fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Boerenko encouraged residents to take personal precautions to limit the spread of the virus, get vaccinated and talk to their healthcare provider about what actions are “best” for them. She declined to discuss the use of face masks, which has become a “controversial topic.”

“COVID is here, it’s in the community and we need to take precaution to keep ourselves and family safe. Testing and vaccines are two great pushes we are going to be pushing out into our community,” Boerenko said.

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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