County launches COVID-19 testing sites for students with symptoms

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“As our numbers go up, we have to presume … there is risk everywhere,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen.

ALBANY COUNTY — The county started a new COVID-19 testing initiative on Monday to help school children who have been excluded from classes because of symptoms like coughing or having a fever.

To begin with, the testing will be done at two sites: Albany High School at 700 Washington Ave. in Albany and at the Albany County Cornell Cooperative Extension at 24 Martin Road in Voorheesville.

These tests, unlike at the other sites listed on the county’s website, will go through school nurses, said Elizabeth Whalen, the county’s health commissioner. They are being run in partnership with the Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Care Center, which is also responsible for the walk-in testing in Albany’s South End and West Hill neighborhoods.

Earlier, Whalen went over the two broad categories for tests. Rapid tests, which can be either antigen-based or molecular, are useful for screening, she said, but, if someone has symptoms, they can get a false negative.

PCR, or polymerase chain reaction laboratory tests, detect genetic material from the virus and form a reliable basis for diagnosis. If symptoms persist, even after a negative PCR test, Whalen said, the patient should get retested.

At the new testing sites for school children, if a first rapid test turns out negative, a PCR can be done at the same appointment, said Whalen. A symptomatic child will ultimately need a PCR test unless the child tested positive with the rapid test, she said.

“Rapid tests are reliable for positives and not so much for negatives,” said Whalen.

Eight tests will be scheduled per hour at the new sites and rapid-test results will be available in 15 minutes.

Rather than doing regional or state-wide lockdowns, New York has instead been tamping down on micro-clusters of COVID-19. Places with the most cases are named as red zones where schools and non-essential businesses are closed. Orange zones are less restrictive followed by yellow zones.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy noted at Monday morning’s press briefing that Albany County’s average for positive test results over the last seven days has been roughly 2.98 percent. If the county reaches a seven-day rolling average above 3 percent, he said, it would be named a yellow zone.

Some individual days have had much higher rates: Albany County was over 4.7 percent on Nov. 8, and over 5.4 percent on Nov. 9.

Schools in yellow zones are required to test 20 percent of school children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Whalen stressed that the required testing for a yellow zone would be distinct from the new testing being launched at Albany High School and Voorheesville’s Cooperative Extension.

The yellow-zone testing would be rapid testing, she said, which “is OK to screen an asymptomatic population.”

She said local schools are currently working on individual plans to meet that 20-percent testing requirement should it be required but the plans are not yet finalized.



Last week, between Wednesday and Friday, Whalen said, her health department got a “concerning number of calls” from people who felt they had been identified as contacts and not had a reach-out.

The department investigated and on Nov. 14 discovered “a glitch in the data collection” involving 486 contacts being pushed back from the state to the local health department.

The one-time glitch was quickly fixed, Whalen said, and by Monday all contacts should have been reached.

“This is not a sign we are not able to keep up with the work we have to do,” said Whalen who went on to praise the dedication of her staff.

She also said that “a lot of people” had responded to her call for more volunteers for the county’s Medical Reserve Corps.


Newest numbers

Statewide, based on Sunday’s COVID-19 test results, New York had a positivity rate of 2.80 percent. This includes the micro-cluster zones, where over-testing is done, which had a rate of 4.19 percent.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, had a rate of 2.3 percent. The lowest rate among the state’s 10 regions was for the Southern Tier at 1.4 percent. The highest rate was in Western New York at 5.2 percent.

Albany County has had 947 new positive cases since Nov. 1, Daniel McCoy, the county’s executive, announced on Monday morning. That accounts for over 20.9 percent of all of the county’s cases, starting March 12.

As of Monday morning, the county has 4,531 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 68 new cases since Sunday.

Of the new cases, 20 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, one reported traveling out of state, 42 did not have a clear source of infection at this time, and five are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

Separately, 15 of the new positive cases are associated with the University at Albany. Since Nov. 7, UAlbany has had an estimated 156 cases, according to the SUNY COVID-19 Tracker, which also reported, as of Monday evening, 237 quarantine rooms were in use.

UAlbany has moved to remote-only classes.

Currently, 1,839 county residents are under quarantine, up from 1,825, which McCoy termed “a high we haven’t seen since the beginning.”

The five-day average for new daily positives decreased to 85.4 from 91.6. There are now 615 active cases in the county, up from 600 yesterday.

So far, 19,112 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 3,914 had tested positive and recovered. 

Thirty-seven county residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19; nine of them are in intensive-care units.

“The last time we had 37 people in the hospital was June 1,” said McCoy.

The county’s hospitalization rate has gone down slightly to 0.81 percent from 0.85 percent.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 147.

“As our numbers go up, we have to presume … there is risk everywhere …,” said Whalen. “It also means there is some asymptomatic spread.”

She also said residents should assume they will come into contact with COVID if they are in contact with other people and she urged residents to forego unnecessary activities “to protect the greater good.”


More Regional News

  • As hospitalization rates approach what they were last April, hospitals in target areas will have non-essential, non-urgent procedures limited. The Capital Region, with just 10 percent of its hospital beds available, is one of the state’s three worst regions. The other two are the Finger Lakes at 9 percent and Central New York at 8 percent.

  • “We enter Thanksgiving week and yes, as Americans, we are thankful. We’re thankful to live in this great country and to live in this state. But with that gratitude comes a sense of responsibility to others….,” said Governor Kathy Hochul as she signed a bill on Saturday making the Nourish New York program permanent. “This war against poverty is going to continue until no child goes to bed in the State of New York with a hungry stomach, never again in our state.”

  • Figures from a year ago — Oct. 24 to Nov. 24 — before the first vaccine was authorized, show better numbers in Albany County than the same time period this year. There are 1,000 more infections and two times the number of deaths, year over year.

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