Westbrook firefighter and EMT Rachael Welsh prepares a COVID-19 test at the Swab and Send site outside the fire station. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK — With a new patient about every five minutes, the COVID-19 Swab and Send test facility outside the Westbrook Public Safety Building has seen no signs of a slowdown since it opened two months ago.

The city hopes to be able to meet the steady testing demand after Oct. 31, when the site’s federal funding runs out.

Run by the Fire Department, the site has administered more than free 6,000 tests so far and continues to average about 100 patients per day, Fire Chief and City Health Officer Andrew Turcotte said this week.

“That surprised us, we thought tests would taper off after students go back to school, tourist season ends, but it hasn’t,” Turcotte said.

The tests the Westbrook Fire Department administers are done through the nose, but “this is not the test that scrapes what feels like the bottom of your brain, making it really friendly to children as well,” said EMT Rachael Welsh. Chance Viles / American Journal

While the rate of transmission is low, with a positive test rate at the Westbrook Swab and Send of 1 in 500 among patients from all over,  testing remains important to people who are traveling or who just to ease their minds during the pandemic, Turcotte said.

Westbrook firefighter and EMT Rachael Welsh, who has been spearheading the testing effort, has been with the department for nine years. She never imagined she’d be administering virus tests during a worldwide pandemic, but she said she’s grateful she is.


“When this first started people were getting told they couldn’t get tested, it was just for people in health care,” Welsh said. “To tell someone they aren’t a priority when they are sick isn’t right, so I am glad we can provide this.”

Welsh added: “People are really worried and we can provide them that relief if they are negative, which is big in the pandemic. It’s interesting. With this, we see people who are concerned or wanting to protect others, whereas a typical EMS day we are going to people on their worst days. It has been eye-opening to see the community this way.”

Only 25% of their testing has been on Westbrook residents, Turcotte said. There have been about 350 total reported COVID-19 cases in the city.

The site has tested people from all over the state and from five continents, he said.

“Not a lot of people have access to low-barrier, free testing. This has been key for us in helping maintain low transmission rates,” Turcotte said.

A patient typically gets the test result back in three to four days. Initially, the site planned to return results in one to two days, but that time expanded as a result of increased testing statewide and its impact on the labs that analyze the tests, Turcotte said.


The Westbrook tests check only for the active virus; they do not show antibodies from having the virus previously.

“We are the only Swab and Send that is run by the municipality, and that is unique, but if anyone is used to working with protective equipment and this kind of work, it is an EMT,” Turcotte said.

“I was overwhelmed at first but now we have it down. It isn’t so different from how different it was even responding to calls anyway, since our procedures changed with the pandemic so much,” Welsh said.

Funds for the site comes from the federal government’s COVID-19 relief grant, but funding is currently slated to stop by Oct. 31.

“Ideally, we will hear that there is more federal funds, but we have no news on that,” Turcotte said.

It is possible that operations stop after funding disappears at the end of the month, but Turcotte said the city hopes to keep it going.

“Other options include charging people’s insurance, but we aren’t equipped for that, or finding a way to continue free service,” he said.

To set up a test, visit westbrookmaine.com or solvhealth.com.

“This couldn’t be possible without the dedication of our fire members, who have been increasingly shifting towards public health,” Turcotte said.

Westbrook firefighters prepare for the day’s testing at the Public Safety Building Monday. The man at the right is readying the refrigerator that will hold the tests before they are transported to a lab in Augusta. Chance Viles / American Journal

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