Manchester officials said they are more than halfway through on-site testing of residents of public housing complexes that serve the elderly and disabled.
As of Wednesday, 342 residents had been tested.
The effort, which began last week, marks the first time the city has conducted walk-up testing since it tested homeless people at the New Horizon homeless shelter in mid-April. Most city-run testing has involved drive-thru testing at the National Guard Armory, where people don’t have to leave their car.
The testing allows residents to walk out the front door of their housing complex into a tent set up for testing.
“We’re targeting higher-risk persons and people who have mobility issues,” said District Fire Chief Mike Gamache, who oversaw the testing at the Gallen Apartments in downtown Manchester. Forty-five of the 99 Gallen residents signed up to be tested, a ratio that is a little lower than other sites.
“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” said Sheila Westgate, a Gallen resident who was tested in the late morning. She said she has no symptoms, but she noted that many people show no symptoms.
Another Gallen resident, Donald Stewart, said many Gallen residents are worried about COVID-19. Most wear masks when outside their apartments.
Last week, city fire and health workers tested at the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority projects. Last week, they tested at the Mary Gale Apartments and the Kalivas and O’Malley high rises, which are downtown.
This week, the city tested at the Burns and Pariseau high rises on the West Side. Testing at the Tarrytown Road projects is slated for Thursday. The Laurette Sweeney apartments off South Porter Street are scheduled for testing next Tuesday.
“Senior housing sites are ideal venues for reaching high-risk groups, as they have a population over 60 years of age and typically have many folks with chronic conditions,” said Jaime Hoebeke, chief strategy officer for the Manchester Health Department.
Health and fire officials visit the apartment complexes about two days before the scheduled testing to sign people up.
Assistant Fire Chief Brendan Burns said testing capacity in the state has greatly increased, which allows officials to offer more tests. Still, the state wants to limit the tests at the apartment sites to 100 per day and at the Armory to 50 a day.
“We’ve identified them all along (for testing),” Burns said. “It’s just been an issue of testing supplies and the capacities of the lab.”
Gamache said it usually takes 24 to 48 hours for residents to receive the test results.
Anyone who tests positive is given instructions on self-monitoring and isolation, and health workers begin contact tracing them. They will be hospitalized only if their symptoms become severe, he said.
The city has not been notified of any positive tests, but those notifications usually take three to five days, Gamache said.
Gamache said testing is being considered for the family housing projects at Elmwood Gardens and Kelley Falls as well as neighborhood locations such as schools.
Meanwhile, privately owned senior housing facilities such as the Carpenter Center, Ramsay House apartments and the Harbor Homes veteran housing have approached health officials about testing there, Burns said.
Data compiled by the fire department shows that the 342 residents amount to 57% of residents of the tested project. Hoebeke said those who are not tested can still protect themselves with masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing.
“If people are in a high-risk group, but their potential exposure to the disease is low through these other strategies, they may not feel the need to be tested,” she said.