DHHS broadens its COVID-19 testing order

AUGUSTA— Governor Janet Mills and Commissioner of Health and Human Services Jeanne Lambrew announced on Sept. 22 that anyone in Maine can now get tested for COVID-19 without the need for a separate order from a health care provider, a milestone resulting from Maine’s vastly expanded testing capacity.  

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has broadened its Standing Order to include all individuals who think they need a COVID-19 test. This means that participating sites may test anyone in Maine over the age of 12 months who feels they need a test, even if they don’t have a primary care provider or a written order from a clinician. 

The Standing Order now also applies to antigen testing in addition to PCR (molecular) testing. The clinical performance of rapid antigen tests largely depends on the circumstances in which they are used. Rapid antigen tests perform best when the person is tested in the early stages of infection with coronavirus when viral load is generally highest. The Standing Order does not apply to antibody testing, which has not been proven reliable.    

While it’s always best to talk with a health care provider about getting a COVID-19 test, those who believe they’ve been exposed may get a test at a site operating under the Standing Order. The order helps people who don’t have a primary health care provider, can’t communicate in a timely way with their health care provider or are visiting Maine or coming back to Maine from another state, for example.   

Maine CDC continues to encourage people experiencing symptoms to get tested, as well as close contacts of infected individuals, people of color and others at high risk of COVID-19. 

While more people in Maine can now get tested under the Standing Order at participating sites, not everyone should get tested. Testing capacity has been vastly expanded but resources must continue to be used wisely. Maine CDC does not recommend, for example, that people get tested for peace of mind before visiting another household or attending a gathering. This is because a person could already have been exposed but been tested too early for the virus to be detected or could be exposed to COVID-19 after getting tested. Testing alone is not prevention, and a negative test does not necessarily mean it’s safe to gather with others. The best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are to practice physical distancing and good hand hygiene and to wear a face covering in public.    

The U.S. CDC also does not advise frequent, routine testing in most circumstances.   

For a list of all sites providing tests to people without symptoms and without requiring a provider referral, visit the Keep Maine Healthy website.  

Some of the organizations operating Swab and Send sites, as well as other organizations, are offering testing to their patients at additional sites as well. For a complete and frequently updated list of COVID-19 testing sites in Maine, visit Get-Tested-COVID19.org. 

DHHS covers the full costs of specimen collection and lab testing for any COVID-19 lab test done at one of the state-contracted Swab and Send sites through at least Oct. 31. For other testing sites, individuals should confirm coverage with their health plan as well as ask about any payments that may be required.   

It’s always best to call a testing site before going to schedule an appointment, which is typically required. Policies on minimum age for testing vary among locations, so individuals should check before seeking a test for anyone under 18. Children 12 months and younger should see a health care provider for a COVID-19 test.  

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