Starting last week, Cayuga Health officials announced that an appointment and advanced registration will be required to receive a COVID-19 test from the Mobile Sampling Center in the Ithaca Mall parking lot, where the vast majority of Tompkins County testing has taken place since the beginning of the pandemic.
In order to schedule an appointment, people must now pre-register and meet certain criteria, like close contact with a positive case or showing symptoms, in order to receive a free test. There is a $99 option available for those who want to receive a test but don't meet the criteria.
Those with symptoms of COVID, those who have reason to believe they have been exposed in the last 14 days, pre-surgical patients and essential workers are all still eligible for free testing. Dr. Martin Stallone, the CEO of Cayuga Health, which runs the facility, said the move was to improve the experience for locals.
“To enhance the testing experience for area residents, the Cayuga Health Mass Sampling Site will require scheduled appointments for everyone seeking and meeting the requirements for a COVID-19 Test," Stallone said in a press release. "Scheduling an appointment ahead of time will minimize traffic congestion and the wait times for people being tested."
Previously, anyone who wanted a test had been encouraged to get one by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but that applies to state-run testing sites only such as exist in Broome and Onondaga Counties. The Tompkins County site is run by Cayuga Health privately, which had been dealing with having to turn people away because they did not meet the aforementioned criteria. This directive, paired with a separate message from the Tompkins County Health Department, will hopefully make testing theoretically available for everyone, although the $99 will be charged in order to defray Cayuga Health costs.
"Cayuga Health System operates an independent testing site, and we’re grateful that they could do so, starting at a time when the state and nation had a severe lack of testing capacity," Tompkins County Health Director Frank Kruppa said. "Over time, as the Governor has announced different populations that would have access to testing, insurance companies stopped some reimbursements for non-medically necessary tests which has resulted in some individuals being unable to get tested at our local site. CHS has been generous in standing up the site and collecting tens of thousands of samples and expanding their capacity to preform tests, it’s a testament to how important it is to have an independent community hospital here."
Cayugahealth.org still lists the criteria to review before scheduling an appointment, and can schedule an appointment there too. A call center has been set up for patients who may not have access to the internet, need assistance registering, or have questions. The call center number is 607-319-5708. The testing site is available for pre-scheduled drive through testing from 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Monday – Friday. Rides are available in a sanitized vehicle to the Cayuga Health Sampling Site. After registration call 2-1-1 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. to schedule a ride. There is no charge for this ride.
"Regarding the number of tests, there has been a significant amount of surveillance testing, for example when essential workers could get tested and many showed up before going back to work during the phases," Kruppa said. "We continue to encourage all individuals who are symptomatic or a close contact of a known case to seek a test right away, and encourage them to do so at the CHS sampling site."
Kruppa said the department is continuing to work with Cayuga Health to make sure testing is available to the community.