Accessibility remains a barrier as DPH increases testing statewide

Delaware’s Division of Public Health has been working to expand access to COVID-19 testing statewide. But some have found that getting tested is not always simple, while others have not even tried to do so in the first place.

Among the three counties, Sussex has recorded the highest proportion of people tested for coronavirus, with 2,031.5 people screened per 10,000 residents.

In New Castle County, 1,552.5 people have been tested per 10,000 residents, while Kent County had just 1,244.5 people tested per 10,000.

For Sussex, that is still only 44,600 tests total, of which 5,407 were positive. Those numbers don’t compare with New Castle County’s 86,183 tests and 6,296 positive results, but dwarf Kent County’s 21,757 tests, 2,058 of which came back positive.

Dr. Rick Pescatore, DPH’s chief physician, said his department has numerous test sites statewide and that people can be tested by their family physicians.

“Don’t wait until something happens to get tested,” he said. “Everyone should get tested.”

But Milford’s Theresa Holmes has not heeded Dr. Pescatore’s advice.

“I haven’t had any symptoms, and I don’t know that I’ve been around anyone that did have symptoms,” she said. “I stay in my house, I come out, I have my mask on, and I go right back in.”

Ms. Holmes wasn’t sure how accessible testing was. “I haven’t inquired,” she said.

Dr. Rick Hong, DPH’s state medical director, emphasized that symptoms may not be present.

“There is concern for asymptomatic spread, so just because you’re feeling well does not mean you may not be carrying the virus,” he said.

“Testing is very important, but you also need to follow control measures, so use a face mask when in public, make sure you wash your hands appropriately, social distance if possible.”

Ms. Holmes was one of many in Milford’s ZIP code who have not been tested. There, the rate of testing was 2,383.7 per 10,000 residents, which is relatively high. Milford’s rate is roughly on par with the Georgetown area’s rate of 2,556.7 per 10,000 and beats rates in Felton, Bridgeville and Laurel, which all had fewer than 2,000 tests per 10,000 people.

“We did a lot of open testing in Milford, and the Georgetown area, as well, because of our relationship with the poultry industry,” Dr. Hong said.
Earlier on in the pandemic, chicken processing plants in Sussex County were hot spots.

“We did perform a lot of testing, not just for the poultry workers,” Dr. Hong said, “but also for the communities surrounding the poultry plants, understanding that there might be spread in those communities.”

Dr. Pescatore said the requests for tests have been varied.

“The demand has been pretty mixed across the board,” Dr. Pescatore said. “We kind of noticed that if there’s an event going on, if there is an outbreak or if there’s a peak … people are more interested. That’s what happened with the beaches.”

The Rehoboth Beach area has one of the highest testing rates in the state with 3,663.7 people tested per 10,000, which dwarfs rates in the Smyrna and Middletown areas, which have 1,634.1 and 1,837.2 people tested per 10,000, respectively.

But now, Milford resident Allyson Roxby, who has not been tested, said getting access is simple for some and more complex for others.

One of Ms. Roxby’s friends was able to get tested with ease at Delaware Technical Community College in Dover last week.

“She didn’t have to have a referral or an appointment or anything,” she said. But Ms. Roxby had “also heard of people who are struggling to get tested that want to get tested and need to have referrals from their physicians.”

“Another friend of mine was saying that her kids needed to go through tele-med to get a referral,” Ms. Roxby said, “so she has to pay that co-pay to get a referral because, by talking to Bayhealth, they wouldn’t let them come get tested without the doctor’s permission.”

Ms. Roxby said her friend ended up paying $80 for these co-pays. They were $20 each for herself and her three children.

Kate Marvel also thought that testing could be more accessible in Milford.

Ms. Marvel believed it was her “moral obligation” to get tested, so she jumped on the opportunity to do so at Milford High School when the state offered oral swab tests there on the last Friday of June. Appointments were not necessary at that event.

“It was a good experience,” Ms. Marvel said. “It ran smoothly.”

This week, DPH carried out five more of these saliva-based testing sites at locations across Kent and Sussex counties, including another one at Milford High School scheduled for Friday.

These tests were scheduled shortly after Bayhealth Hospital publicized that it had stopped its appointment-based drive-thru testing operation at its Sussex County campus in Milford on July 10. COVID-19 testing is still available by appointment for some at DPH’s Milford Service Center.

“We do offer limited testing at state service centers by appointment only, but it’s really geared toward folks who have access barriers to get testing elsewhere,” Dr. Hong said. “We did hold some community-wide testing at that state service center in Milford, which was attended very well.”

Dr. Pescatore said DPH’s partnership with Walgreens, which has opened a testing site at one store in each of Delaware’s counties, has played a big role in expanding the testing footprint statewide. In Sussex County, the Walgreens testing site is in Bridgeville, where just 1,448.4 residents have been tested per 10,000.

“Bridgeville offered an excellent opportunity to provide testing access to a vulnerable population, as well as add a pharmacy footprint that was amenable to Walgreens’ operation,” Dr. Pescatore said. “That’s a more rural community, which scores higher on our indeces of health risk.”

Dr. Pescatore said he expects Walgreens to open more testing sites, and that in the meantime, there are numerous locations statewide where people can get tested. One of these is Bayhealth Hospital’s drive-thru testing operation at its Kent County location in Dover, which is still taking appointments for those who have referrals.

“We continue to strive to make sure there are enough testing locations,” Dr. Pescatore said. “As we hear increased demand, we will accommodate those folks.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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