It’s becoming much easier to get a COVID-19 test in Maine.

Some urgent care centers and walk-in clinics have started to offer testing for the coronavirus, including ClearChoiceMD Urgent Care in Scarborough and ConvenientMD Urgent Care clinics in Portland, Westbrook, Saco and Bangor.

Meanwhile, the state is using $52.7 million from the federal government to further expand its lab and testing capacity, including drive-through testing sites. And a national pharmacy chain soon may open drive-through testing sites in Maine.

“As part of our goal to open up to 1,000 drive-through test sites across the country by the end of May, we are working with state officials to identify locations in Maine,” CVS spokesman Joe Goode said Thursday. Goode said an announcement about which CVS MinuteClinic locations in Maine will offer the tests could come next week.

The access to testing at urgent care and walk-in medical clinics is part of a national trend as testing capacity increases two months into the pandemic. CVS, for example, currently offers COVID-19 testing at MinuteClinic locations in eight states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

It’s a dramatic change from recent weeks and months as inadequate testing capacity limited the ability of the medical community to track and contain the spread of the virus.

Expanding the availability of tests also comes as the state has relaxed the testing criteria given to medical providers. Patients with mild symptoms or exposure to an infected person now may qualify for a test under the state’s criteria after being screened by a medical provider.

Dr. Marcus Hampers, CEO of ClearChoiceMD, said that patients can receive a screening at the Scarborough location and if it’s determined that they need a test, they will be tested with a nasal swab. The entire process should take about an hour or less, he said. Patients wait in their car, and they are separated from patients who are going to the urgent care center for other needs.

“It’s a much easier process than going to the doctor’s office, getting screened and then going somewhere else for a test,” Hampers said. Tests are sent to an out-of-state national lab, and results are usually back within three days, though it can take as long as five days or as few as 12 hours. All results are reported to the state.

The ClearChoiceMD Urgent Care office in Scarborough is offering COVID-19 testing and antibody testing, as are ConvenientMD Urgent Care clinics in Portland, Westbrook, Saco and Bangor. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Hampers said positive results are 99.4 percent accurate, and negative results are more than 90 percent accurate.

Hampers said the clinic’s capacity is about 100 patients per day, but they have not been getting close to that many people because awareness is low right now. ClearChoiceMD has 14 locations, with most of them in New Hampshire. The urgent care provider – which also conducts antibody testing for patients who may have previously had COVID-19 – began accepting COVID-19 patients with a possible current infection in Maine in late April.

The cost is $139 per test, but most insurance plans will cover the cost, Hampers said. ClearChoiceMD has a partnership with New Hampshire where the state covers the cost of the test for uninsured residents. Hampers said he is in initial discussions with Maine about a similar program.

As access increases, the state’s testing lab has tripled its capacity and similar increases are happening at labs across the United States.

The state loosened its testing criteria in response to the expanding testing capacity.

Previously, patients needed to be in high-risk categories to receive a test, such as a hospitalized patient, a health care worker or someone living in a congregate care setting.

But now non-hospitalized patients with mild symptoms and asymptomatic patients who have come in close contact with COVID-19 positive patients can get a test after being screened by a medical provider. Maine has so far had 1,877 positive COVID-19 cases, and 73 deaths.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, through a partnership with Idexx, is now able to do about 7,000 tests per week. That doesn’t include Maine medical providers that send test samples to national laboratories, which are also quickly expanding capacity.

Nationally, testing has increased from about 1 million tests per week in mid-April to 3 million weekly tests, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project website.

Estimates on how much testing is needed to successfully contain the outbreak vary widely, with some estimates suggesting the United States is currently at about 80 percent of needed testing capacity, while another estimate by Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics says the country needs at least a 10-fold increase to do 35 million tests weekly by June and 140 million tests per week later this year to fully contain the outbreak.

What is undisputed is that in Maine and much of the country, it’s much easier to get a test now than it was even a few weeks ago.

The $52.7 million in federal funding to expand testing in Maine will include a ramp-up of drive-thru testing, although where and how much funding will be devoted to drive-thru testing is still being worked out, state officials said.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said drive-thru testing is a good model because it’s a convenient way to test patients who may be contagious and minimizes exposure to other people.

At Northern Light Health, the eight Walk-In Care clinics they operate throughout the state – including Portland, Yarmouth, Windham and Bangor – offer COVID-19 testing after a telephone screening, said Andrew Soucier, Northern Light spokesman.

“We continue to use the COVID-19 screening hotline (844-489-1822) to determine the clinically appropriate care for each individual patient. If they require testing, we coordinate care at the most convenient testing site for the patient. Some of these testing sites are located at our Walk-In Care locations, and some are located elsewhere. People need to have a referral to be tested at all of the screening locations,” Soucier said in an email response to questions.

Shah said urgent care centers and walk-in clinics are a welcome addition to the state’s testing capacity. Tests conducted by urgent care and walk-in clinics are reported to the state and included in the CDC’s daily reports.

“Certainly we are at a position where we welcome additional actors, additional swabbers and senders to the table,” Shah said.

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