Local virus testing capacity gets a boost



BAR HARBOR — Local testing for the new coronavirus will be able to be stepped up as Mount Desert Island Hospital has received a new piece of equipment able to determine results within an hour and The Jackson Laboratory announced a plan to partner with Maine hospitals to analyze patient samples at its Connecticut facility. 

Three confirmed cases of the virus have been reported from patient samples collected at Mount Desert Island Hospital’s testing facility. Of the three, only one is a Hancock County resident. As of Wednesday morning, no new positive cases have been reported since April 7, hospital spokesperson Oka Hutchins said.  

The hospital’s new testing device is a Cepheid GeneXpert point-of-care system that can detect the new coronavirus and many other infectious diseases in approximately 45 minutes or less. 

We do not know when we will be able to access additional supplies of the Cepheid test kits (including the reagents), so we are using them only for patients where immediate results are most critical,” Hutchins said. We will still be sending most outpatient tests off-site. 

The purchase of the testing system was made possible by an anonymous gift. 

Also beginning this week, The Jackson Laboratory is collaborating with hospitals in Maine, including MDI Hospital, Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth and MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta to augment the existing testing capacity for their health care workers and in-patients who are symptomatic for Covid-19. 

Samples collected from patients at those hospitals and their collection sites will be sent to The Jackson Laboratory’s laboratory facility in Farmington, Conn., which is Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments licensed and College of American Pathologists accredited. There, the patient samples will be tested for the specific RNA signature unique to the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease. 

The Connecticut laboratory has been testing samples from Connecticut hospitals for several weeks. The team there is currently testing 2,000 samples per week, with plans to ramp up to 3,500 samples per week. The testing system being used is calibrated to provide a short turnaround time to quickly return vital information to the hospitals. Individuals seeking to be tested for COVID-19 should not call or come directly to The Jackson Laboratory, but instead call their doctor’s office or local hospital for guidance. 

The Jackson Laboratory also hopes to add other Maine hospitals and health care facilities to the partnership in the coming weeks, CEO Edison Liu said in a statement. 

The total number of Hancock County resident cases of Covid-19 rose to five this week. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, has said that the state does not have a backlog of tests waiting to be processed and that whether or not someone is tested is a decision made in consultation with his or her health-care provider. 

Following federal guidelines, nonresidents who test positive while in Maine are counted in their home state of residence. Last week, Shah reported that 13 Maine residents have tested positive out of state and 17 nonresidents have tested positive while in Maine. The CDC has not provided any more information on those cases. 

Kate Cough contributed to this report. 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Liz is an award-winning journalist who has been with the Islander since 2013. She grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor. [email protected]

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