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Shinnecock tribe gets COVID-19 testing machine, reports 2 cases

Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is beginning to make its way out of centrally located testing centers on Long Island, including to doctors’ offices and on the Shinnecock Indian Nation, which has reported its first two confirmed cases, officials said.

The New York State Health Department said it’s still prioritizing testing to at-risk patients showing symptoms or who have been in direct contact with an infected person, but some doctors offices are getting equipment to take tests and send them out for analysis.

At the Shinnecock Indian reservation in Southampton, the tribe, after weeks of pleas to the White House and local government officials, last week received the same Abbott test machine in use at the White House, said tribal vice chairman Lance Gumbs. Training on the machine took place over the past few days and it’s now ready for use at the tribal health center.

It arrived just as the first two on-reservation tribal members have tested positive for the virus, Gumbs said.  He said three other members who lived off the reservation have died — two of whom lived in nursing homes.

The tribe has about 1,500 members, around half of whom live on the 700-acre reservation.

The tribe’s ability to use the testing machine, which gives results in 15 minutes, will be somewhat limited by the number of tests kits that came with it: 24 for now, Gumbs said.

“We’re just trying to protect the people we have,” Gumbs said. “We have a very vulnerable population. My mother is 99 years old. They’re our national treasure. They carry the history of the nation.”

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The state, which announced on Wednesday an agreement with the Trump administration to double statewide testing capacity, has been a central facilitator for testing. The state’s COVID-19 hotline has received about 600,000 calls since it was set up last month as a primary contact for those who suspect they had the disease and wanted a test, spokeswoman Jill Montag said. 

Of those 600,000, about 84,000 have been scheduled for a test at one of the sites across the state. Statewide 649,325 had been tested in the state as of Monday.

The state is still prioritizing testing for those who are high risk, including health care workers (those who work in hospitals, nursing homes and doctor’s offices, as well as firefighters and emergency responders), those who’ve been in contact with confirmed cases, or those who’ve recently been inside a nursing home, Montag said.

The state said anyone can call the site to request a test, and as “more tests become available we will schedule additional people at a nearby testing site,” she said.

Asked if local doctor’s offices could be expected to begin routine testing of potential COVID-19 patients soon, Montag pointed to recent pronouncements by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo about the need for increased testing and the planned doubling of testing capacity.

It’s already beginning to show in some local doctor’s offices. At the office of Dr. Michael Ladinsky in East Islip, patients calling in with symptoms of COVID-19 wait in their cars to be called in for the tests.

A receptionist answering the phone Tuesday said the office has had the tests for a week but there’s “no surplus.”

Replacement tests come when one goes out for results, she said, but demand isn’t soaring. “We’re not seeing a lot of COVID patients.”

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