WESTBROOK — A “barrier-free” COVID-19 test site is set to open in the city Monday, a step that officials hope will control any future outbreaks, especially those started by asymptomatic carriers.

The mobile testing facility at the Public Safety Building will be open by appointment for drive-up and walk-up patients, regardless of if the patient has symptoms. There will be no charge for the tests, which will likely be done using nasal swabs, and results will be available 24-48 hours later. The site, operated by the Westbrook Fire Department, will be open to non-residents as well.

We want to make this as barrier-free and as easy to use as possible,” Fire Chief and City Health Officer Andrew Turcotte said.

It is important to eliminate the cost barrier for testing, Turcotte said, because those with lower socio-economic status are more at risk of contracting the disease and often can’t travel out of the city to get tested.

In particular, people of color make up 25% of COVID-19 calls in the city, Turcotte said, despite making up less than 7% of the population, a “concerning” disparity he hopes available testing will aid.

“Access to healthcare is certainly an issue” for some people of color in Westbrook, said Harrison Deah, Westbrook’s General Assistance community outreach coordinator.

New immigrants are “the ones working a lot of times, so they are more likely to come in contact with people, working outside of their homes, ” Deah said.

The test site is being funded entirely by federal pandemic relief grants, Turcotte said.

“If we were to contract out, it’s about $100 per test, which may include additional costs like a one time fee, which could be $500,” Turcotte said.

Setting up the site would cost $25,000 between the tent and supplies needed, excluding personnel costs, he said.

Testing is important in collecting more data on COVID-19, as well as to stop the spread, Turcotte said.

“Oftentimes asymptomatic carriers or people with less serious symptoms will unknowingly transfer it, so now if someone thinks they may have it, they can get a test and their results the next day. That can help stop the spread,” he said.

The site will send samples to the Maine CDC’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory for testing. Westbrook’s test site will be the 22nd COVID-19 testing site in the state.

Response to the pandemic remains a high priority for Turcotte’s department with continued concerns based on those asymptomatic cases, he said.

“At this point in time, we are treating every patient as if they potentially have coronavirus. On every call, our paramedics, EMS professionals are donning full protective gear,” he said.

Turcotte said he could not provide the number of cases in the city because of privacy laws, but that the EMS responds to positive cases “on a weekly basis.”

“That includes three members of our own department,” Turcotte said. “The good news is that only one out of three had significant symptoms.”

His employees are screened numerous times a day and that played into the virus not spreading throughout more of the department, he said, but added the department has been “lucky.”

“The asymptomatic component of this is the tricky part,” he said. “It could be much worse but, we’ve been very smart about what we do, we take nothing for granted.”

Recent outbreaks of the virus at American Roots, a clothing company now focused on manufacturing PPE at the Dana Warp Mill, and Corsetti’s restaurant on Bridgton Road have also been contained, Turcotte said.

American Roots reported 11 positive cases, starting July 10, on their Facebook page. With workers who tested positive out of the workplace, additional universal testing rounds found no positive cases as of July 28.

Corsetti’s temporarily closed after one employee tested positive, but it reopened July 24. According to their Facebook page, they will be tightening their sanitization processes and will strictly enforce masks and social distancing in the store.

Owners at both businesses did not return calls from the American Journal.

The test site is a good start, Turcotte said, but the city is seeking additional grant money for further pandemic relief. Housing for people with suspected and confirmed cases is needed for those who don’t have a place to quarantine.

“Fortunately, the Department of Health and Human Services has contracted with a hotel in South Portland, we look to provide something like that.” 

Additional housing options, Deah said, would also aid in the disparity of COVID-19 cases among people of color.

Deah said General Assistance recipients “are more likely to be in a cramped area,” living in congested communities, apartment buildings with one entrance,” he said.

“With that, there is no way of quarantining with the disease, or controlling it,” Deah said. 

Comments are not available on this story.