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The Hanover Fire Department is providing in-home COVID testing to residents who are homebound and cannot get to a testing site.
The department has also built a robust testing program for its public school system, thanks to a mobile integrated health program the town had been developing with South Shore Health prior to the pandemic.
The town received a temporary license from the Department of Public Health to launch the testing program.
“Our department has been working for close to two years internally and with the hospital to see how we could integrate mobile health in our community,” Fire Chief Jeff Blanchard said. “A lot of the foundation had already been laid when the pandemic hit.”
There are two parts to the program. The first is a partnership with South Shore Hospital to provide in-home tests. With a referral from a doctor, tests are administered by paramedics, and the samples are taken to the hospital.
“There is a criteria to receive a test,” Blanchard said. “It is individuals who out of medical necessity need to have a test. They have symptoms and can’t get to a testing site. If a request comes in between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., we see them the same day.
“Our initial discussions about partnering with the hospital were based on helping keep people out of the hospital who had been discharged, working with the various visiting nurses in the area to find gaps to fill,” he said. “So all that work we had done and all those contacts we had had helped us when the pandemic hit.”
The department also launched a larger school-based testing program to help the schools open and maintain operations safely. Hanover Public Schools are currently operating in a hybrid model.
“We tested all school staff twice before schools opened – anyone who would interact with kids – and all those tests came back negative,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jason Cavallaro. “We thought, ‘We can continue this.’ If a student or staff comes in sick, we can come in and test them and results come in less than 12 hours to reassure the families.”
The department administers 15 to 30 tests per day to people who are symptomatic or close contacts, as well as their families. If there’s a positive result, the department works closely with public and school health officials to test and quarantine to ensure the virus doesn’t spread. Testing has also been expanded to critical infrastructure personnel.
“When the program started in April and where we are now, things have constantly changed, and as we have shifted gears and started focusing on schools, we were pivoting and finding efficiencies,” said Cavallaro. “In the last two and a half weeks, we have really found a groove where the program wasn’t impacting our other services.”
Between the two programs, the department estimates it has administered about 2,000 COVID tests.
“There are so many different facets to mobile integrated health,” Chief Blanchard said. “What we are doing with testing in the field is scratching the surface of it. This is just one small subsection of a chapter of a very large book.”
The cost of testing and the associated costs of the program are being reimbursed through the federal CARES Act, administered to the town by Plymouth County. The department and the town are exploring options for funding the program in case COVID assistance is not continued beyond the end of this year.