Health care workers test a patient Tuesday at the new drive-up testing facility outside the emergency room entrance at Maine General Medical Center’s Thayer campus in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

WATERVILLE — Drive-up coronavirus testing stations have been established at MaineGeneral Medical Center’s emergency departments here as the pandemic reaches into the region.

As of Wednesday afternoon, state officials said Maine had at least 42 confirmed cases of the virus, which causes the COVID-19 illness. Locally, the first Kennebec County case was confirmed Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoon the Kennebec County District Attorney’s office said one of its employees had tested positive as well.

Among the first such drive-up sites late last week was the Portland-based health care provider InterMed, which announced Friday that it added “outdoor, drive-through, appointment-only testing” for patients whose doctors suspect they may have coronavirus. Northern Light Health has set up drive-up testing tents at Mercy Hospital Fore River in Portland and at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Officials at Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville, which is owned by Northern Light Health, said in a statement Wednesday that the hospital is “looking at new ways to streamline screening and testing.”

“Beginning in the next few days, we’ll be establishing a drive-up test location, and a special phone screening process,” said Andrew Soucier, a hospital spokesman. “Planning is occurring now. … Other Northern Light Health hospitals are also establishing drive-up test sites. EMMC started a site at Bass Park in Bangor today.”

The nearby Faith Evangelical Free Church off Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville will be allowing Inland to use its parking lot for drive-up testing, officials said.

Health care workers test a patient Tuesday at the new drive-up testing facility outside the emergency room entrance at MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer campus in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

At MaineGeneral’s Waterville drive-up on Tuesday and Wednesday, at least two vehicles could be seen each day pulling up to the testing station, as health care workers wearing protective masks and suits approached from the ER.

MaineGeneral officials said the station is not for drive-through testing except for those who need emergency service, and it was set up to protect other patients in the emergency department. The testing areas outside the emergency departments were set up Tuesday at both the Augusta and Waterville medical centers, and officials said they didn’t immediately know how many people had been tested.

MaineGeneral officials said people who have any flu-like symptoms should stay home; call their primary care provider if they feel the need to be seen for symptoms; or call 911 for an emergency. Officials asked people not to arrive unannounced at MaineGeneral Express Care, a primary care office or the emergency department, but rather to call ahead so medical staff can prepare for the person’s arrival.

Dr. Steve Diaz, chief medical officer at Maine General Health and chairman-elect of the Maine Hospital Association, said in written responses to questions that medical officials are urging patients who have cold-like symptoms “to think carefully about whether they need to see a doctor.”

“Staying at home with mild symptoms may be the best option to protect themselves and others,” Diaz said. “If a patient has respiratory issues they should call their PCP office first. If a patient is in an emergency situation they should call 911 or go to the ED – if they have COVID-19 symptoms and need to go to the ED, then they should call ahead. Testing is at the discretion of the practice based on screening questions.”

When medical officials look for symptoms, the screen questions they ask are:

• Do you have any signs or symptoms of respiratory infection such as fever, cough or sore throat?
• Have you traveled within the last 14 days to restricted countries?
• Have you had any contact with someone with known COVID-19 or a person under investigation for COVID-19?

“MaineGeneral has been monitoring the situation carefully and making decisions based on best ways to protect our patients, staff, visitors and community,” Diaz said. “We are trying to do the right thing. If patients have no symptoms, they should not be tested. We are encouraging everyone to practice social distancing and to stay home if they are sick. We always believe in the right care, at the right time, at the right place, and this is even more important now. Wash your hands frequently and do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth.”


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