TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Shops at Ithaca Mall Mobile Sampling Center has been one of the most successful ventures in testing in central New York, as Cayuga Health System has been able to provide reliable, quick-turnaround COVID-19 testing since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring.

But, of course, with only one site open and able to provide testing there are bound to be troublesome times, when scheduling and wait times can become more burdensome. Such has been the case recently at the sampling site, which has extended service times in response to public exposure alerts and potentially higher testing demand. The wait times on Monday, Nov. 23, stretched as long as two hours during the later stages of the day, though by mid-day Tuesday lines had been greatly reduced and wait times were back down to about 15 minutes, according to Cayuga Medical Center spokesperson John Turner.

“It does vary from day-to-day,” Turner said. “This was one of the first (mobile sampling sites) that opened in New York State, we’ve been a leader in the state on this. Tompkins County has done a great job with testing and tracing (…) Everybody has really come together to make everything work.”

Scheduling has also been challenging for some in the last few days. For months, a test at the site has required a pre-scheduled appointment—15 minute slots—when patients would arrive to the drive-thru site and give their sample via nasal swab. But with higher demand, the number of available slots have periodically dwindled, although it appears from the scheduling site that additional hours have been added for the upcoming weekend to alleviate some of the scheduling issues.

“There are times, especially this week with an increase in people looking to get tested before Thanksgiving, when the schedule books out longer than we would like,” Turner said. “But we’re doing everything we can to expedite it, and that includes adding additional resources and expanding hours. We monitor it every day and make adjustments.”

Turner emphasized the “phenomenal” job that the CHS site crew had done during the course of the pandemic, as the site has administered nearly 500,000 COVID-19 tests as of Nov. 23, with usually much shorter times to return results than other testing sites elsewhere in the state and in the country. He said it is somewhat concerning that even after plenty of guidance from health officials nationwide and local there are still such large increases in people seeking testing, potentially indicating plans to travel, but said it’s still their personal choice.

Public health officials have been steadfast in asking the public to refrain from traveling and gathering as the pandemic enters another wave of positive tests both locally and nationally.

“The guidance we’ve issued to the community strongly discourages travel and gatherings for the holidays – it’s important to note that a test represents a moment in time, and individuals may test negative one day and be positive the next day as the disease incubates – or have an exposure after their test that results in them being positive,” said Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. “Cayuga Health System has consistently adapted to the community’s need for testing, and while there are some days with increased wait times, they are doing over 500 tests each day, and we are urging everyone to continue to be patient and do all that we can to stop the spread.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com