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New IDEXX mobile lab now operating in Augusta to increase testing capacity

A new mobile lab, located near the Maine CDC lab in Augusta, will allow for enhanced testing...
A new mobile lab, located near the Maine CDC lab in Augusta, will allow for enhanced testing efforts.(WKYT News)
Published: Aug. 27, 2020 at 2:07 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - A new mobile lab, located near the Maine CDC lab in Augusta, will allow for enhanced testing efforts.

The mobile unit is operated by IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. and officials say this quadruples the state’s testing capacity.

Weekly testing capacity will increase from 6,000 per week to more than 25,000 per week.

As of this week, the mobile lab is accepting specimens and reporting out results.

DHHS also announced that it has extended federal funding for 27 swab-and-send sites through at least Oct. 31.

The funding allows the sites to offer testing free of charge.

After October, swab and sends will bill insurance companies for the service.

Full statement from DHHS:

AUGUSTA— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories Inc. announced today the start of operations at the mobile laboratory stationed at the Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory (HETL) in Augusta, quadrupling Maine’s current COVID-19 testing capacity. At the same time, DHHS is extending its financial support of 27 swab and send locations through at least the end of October.

The new mobile lab, which is supported by federal funding, serves as an extension of HETL and is thus federally certified, confirming that the mobile lab meets or exceeds all quality assurance standards. As of this week, the mobile lab is accepting specimens and reporting out results.

HETL’s maximum testing capacity is increasing from approximately 6,000 per week to more than 25,000 per week. Some surge capacity will be reserved to ensure the lab is positioned to respond to any future outbreaks and to maintain streamlined operations. This added capacity is made possible through the State’s partnership with IDEXX for additional test kits, personnel, and the mobile lab.

“This is another significant step forward in our efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. On behalf of the people of Maine, I applaud our staff at the State lab and thank IDEXX for their continued partnership, which has made reliable testing more widely available across our state,” said Governor Mills. “While this expansion of testing is welcome news, testing alone cannot prevent new cases or new outbreaks. Only we can do that by continuing to do our part and take the necessary steps to protect our health and the health of our loved ones as we welcome fall in Maine.”

“The staff at HETL have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic to ensure that Maine people and visitors have access to reliable and timely COVID-19 testing results,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “The mobile lab is critical to expanding Maine’s testing capacity and keeping infection rates low as we enter the fall. We thank IDEXX for their strong partnership, valued collaboration, and contribution to Maine’s high ranking among states in COVID-19 response.”

“We are inspired by the ongoing dedication of so many who continue to work tirelessly to test, treat, and contain COVID-19,” said Olivier te Boekhorst, Corporate Vice President of IDEXX. “We are pleased to leverage the capabilities of IDEXX to contribute to the fight against this pandemic both here in Maine and across the globe.”

Also today, Maine DHHS announced that it has extended federal funding for swab and send providers, originally scheduled to end by August 31, to October 31. This reimbursement supports swab and send locations in offering testing free of charge to individuals who believe they may have COVID-19 or could have been exposed to the virus, with or without symptoms, as defined under the DHHS Standing Order. All swab and send sites send samples to HETL. After October, swab and sends will bill insurance companies for the service.

The swab and send locations continue to increase their volume of specimen collection. For example, the site operated by the City of Westbrook has sent more than 1,400 samples to HETL since beginning operations on August 3.

HETL reached an operational milestone last week when it crossed the threshold of processing 50,000 COVID-19 samples since March 2020. This surpasses HETL’s annual volume for all clinical microbiology tests, such as flu tests, for each of the past five years.

As of today, this increasing volume at HETL contributed to 273 COVID-19 tests per 100,000 people, an increase of nearly 60 percent since the first week in August. HETL continues to provide test results within 24 to 48 hours of receiving samples, with no backlog.

During this period of increasing workload, HETL staff have collaborated with IDEXX to prepare the mobile lab for launch, including training employees, resolving supply chain challenges relating to equipment and materials, and obtaining certifications.

The 27 swab and send sites complement the roughly 40 current testing sites already available to the public. For a list of sites providing tests under the DHHS Standing Order, which includes all swab and send sites, visit the Keep Maine Healthy website.

Some of the organizations operating swab and send sites, as well as other organizations, are offering testing to their patients at additional sites as well. For a complete and frequently updated list of COVID-19 testing sites in Maine, visit Get-Tested-COVID19.org.

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