At last week's Tompkins County Legislature, a resolution approving the purchase of new testing equipment from a local molecular testing firm was passed unanimously.
The resolution was introduced by Legislator Shawna Black. County Administrator Jason Molino and Cayuga Health CEO Martin Stallone both addressed the legislature prior to the vote, speaking in support of the legislation.
"With testing becoming a broader range, more folks fitting within the criteria, testing is a critical part of surveiling the community for disease movement," Molino said. "The ability to process those samples is critical. [...] It's not a huge investment for us compared to what it could do."
Molino said 75 percent of the cost of the purchase is likely to be reimbursed by the federal government, with another 12.5 percent covered by the state. That means Tompkins County would only be on the hook for about $7,000 for the single piece of equipment. Rheonix is an Ithaca-based company, having been founded at Cornell University.
Stallone said with the Rheonix device, which will be housed at Cayuga Medical Center, Cayuga Health System will be able to increase the daily capacity to thousands of COVID-19 tests, potentially around 4,000 tests per day. The turnaround time, Stallone said, would be four hours.
"That's lightly what is needed to support school re-opening and larger economic reactivation in a deliberate way," Stallone said. "It's a local testing platform, meaning the analysis is done under our roof."
The new equipment will allow for the pooling of samples to increase daily testing numbers – a method possible because of the low prevalence of COVID-19 in Tompkins County. Cayuga Health System has committed to sharing techniques with other regional partners who also have Rheonix equipment.
"Our vision is to accurately and rapidly detect any change in prevalence so that other public health oriented actions can be taken to cool what's going on," Stallone said. "We hope that that doesn't come to pass, but we need a good strong surveillance program [...] I'm very optimistic that this is going to be a key capability in that fight."