COVID-19 testing is underway at all Portland Housing Authority properties. The voluntary testing is aimed at gauging the prevalence of the coronavirus at those sites. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — Portland Housing Authority has begun testing residents for the coronavirus to see how prevalent COVID-19 is at its seven properties around the city.

Portland Housing Authority Director Cheryl Sessions hopes the new universal testing program at authority properties will give residents “peace of mind” or help getting resources they need amidst the coronavirus pandemic. File photo

The nasal swab testing is not required of residents, but the authority’s Executive Director Cheryl Sessions said she hopes more will decide to participate in this “outreach to the immigrant and low-income population.”

“I know our residents have been scared and staying very remote, so we thought it would either give peace of mind or help in targeting resources around any issues they may have,” Sessions said.

As of last week, only two tests had come back positive from the 100 tests conducted at Sagamore Village and the 35 tests each at Riverton Park and Harborview Terrace.

“Overall, we are surprised how low the positive rate has been, but had wished more people would take advantage of the opportunity,” she said.

Test results come back from the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory within 24 to 48 hours. If a test is positive, the patient is put in touch with a contact tracer and also connected to the Opportunity Alliance or Catholic Charities for additional services.

Alex Hughes, family health program manager in Portland’s public health division, said “staff and partners are revisiting the outreach plan as a way to increase testing numbers.” Testing, she said, will be scheduled soon at Bayside East/Bayside West/Kennedy Park, Franklin Towers, Front Street and Washington Gardens.

“The city initiated a local partnership to offer universal COVID-19 testing to all residents and employees in the seven Portland Housing Authority sites in the city as a way to gather a snapshot into the prevalence of the virus in these sites and contain and prevent spread in order to promote public health and safety,” Hughes said.
The testing is being led by Mercy Hospital and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention while Portland Housing and community partners are handling logistics and outreach.
Hughes said the testing is important, especially for those who may have COVID-19 but are not experiencing any symptoms.
“Many of these communities behave like congregate living sites in a number of ways,” Hughes said. “Community members share green spaces, community centers, food pantries (and) mail facilities. In some cases they share hallways, elevators, doors, etc. There are many points of contact in and among residents of these communities.”
Sessions said she hopes the testing “is helpful to our residents and give (us) some indication of where we are at in this fight, especially as everyone is debating return to school.”

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