Penobscot Community Healthcare Preserves Capacity for Rapid COVID Tests

BANGOR, Sept. 14—With the Delta variant surging in Maine and amid rising positive cases and hospitalizations, the state’s largest federally qualified health center will restrict the use of Rapid Antigen COVID testing to its employees and to essential workers, including other workers in healthcare, officials said today. Travelers who need to show proof of negative tests are being referred elsewhere by Penobscot Community Healthcare.

PCHC joins hospitals and other healthcare providers in Maine who are trying to preserve their testing capacity even as demand for test kits grows—and supply diminishes from manufacturers who scaled back production earlier this year. Supplies are low for both the quick-turnaround antigen testing (BinaxNow) and the PCR rapid testing. At PCHC, the PCR rapid tests will be reserved for our sickest patients, and other symptomatic patients will be tested with kits sent to an external lab for review. The lab work can take up to several days to complete.

“It’s important that we maintain sufficient supplies to test essential workers, while we wait for test production to ramp back up,” said Noah Nesin, M.D., PCHC’s chief medical officer. “The incredibly transmissible variant of COVID is even causing breakthrough infections in vaccinated people and threatens those who cannot be vaccinated, including kids under 12 and medically frail people. So we need to make testing a priority for those who must work in hospitals, schools and other essential areas.”

Patients should be aware that as testing volume increases, they may experience longer waits for results.  The CDC still recommends quarantine for exposed persons who are unvaccinated or symptomatic, and while waiting for test results.