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Maine people considered at elevated risk of contracting the coronavirus will be able to get tested without a doctor’s order as part of another testing expansion that will let the state run 25,000 more coronavirus tests per week.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that it’s expanding a partnership with IDEXX Laboratories announced last month that allowed the state to triple its coronavirus testing capacity at the state laboratory by adding 5,000 tests per week.
DHHS now says it plans to purchase at least 350,000 additional tests, allowing it to run an additional 25,000 tests per week starting in July for 14 weeks. That would more than quadruple testing capacity from current levels at the state’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory.
The first expansion helped the state to run nearly 37,000 tests at both state and local labs in May, according to the department. It also let the state abandon its testing prioritization strategy that focused testing efforts on health care workers and first responders, those who are hospitalized and people in congregate living locations such as nursing homes and homeless shelters.
The new wave of tests will be run at a new mobile lab based in Augusta. The mobile lab would receive samples from 20 new “swab and send” locations around the state, bringing the total number of state mobile testing sites to 60. With the additional testing sites, the state says 90 percent of Maine residents will not have to drive more than 30 minutes to get tested.
DHHS said it will start accepting applications this week to set up the new testing sites, using money from a $52.7 million federal grant the state received last month to expand testing capacity.
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As part of the expansion, DHHS also announced that anyone who is more likely to be exposed to the virus can get a test without a doctor’s order. That would include groups such as health care workers and first responders; workers in congregate living facilities or places where public interaction is frequent, such as grocery stores; homeless individuals; and visitors from states where the virus is more prevalent.
While the first expansion announced last month allowed the state to get rid of its tiered testing system, a doctor still needs to order the test for most people.
The expanded testing is critical to the state’s reopening process and was announced the same day Gov. Janet Mills relaxed quarantine restrictions for out-of-state visitors. Instead of having to quarantine for 14 days, visitors can now book lodging in the state provided they show proof of having tested negative within 72 hours of their visit. An exception was made for New Hampshire and Vermont residents, who can now enter Maine without quarantining or proving they’ve tested negative.
The testing sites are required to report results to the patient and the state no later than one business day after they are received, according to the department’s standing order.
The state’s initial contract with IDEXX allowed it to buy tests for $20 each. The first expansion cost $1.2 million and was covered by federal funding, according to DHHS officials.
Watch: What Maine is doing to expand contact tracing