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Centre extends testing site at Nittany Mall

BELLEFONTE — With COVID-19 numbers in Centre County accelerating, the county commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to extend the testing site at the Nittany Mall for an additional two weeks.

“We are seeing numbers spike across the country and here in the Commonwealth. This is not the time to be letting off the gas. Continuing with the testing at this site, I think, is critical,” said Commissioner Michael Pipe.

With that in mind, the commissioners approved the contract with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare to continue to operate the walk-in clinic through Saturday, Dec. 12. AMI will not administer tests during the week of Thanksgiving, Nov. 23 through Nov. 29. Testing will resume on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

“They are not going to be testing the week of Thanksgiving, mostly for logistical reasons,” said county administrator Margaret Gray. “The health staff that comes in for these teams comes from all over the country. Logistically, to get them here for three days and then back again for a Saturday is pretty difficult.”

There is no age requirement and testing is free of charge. Appointments are not necessary, but a photo ID or insurance card is required to get a test.

Centre County reported 62 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday to bring its total to 5,044, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

According to Gray, AMI is reporting that more and more Centre County residents are getting tested at the Nittany Mall site, which is located inside the former Bon-Ton department store.

“We were running testing approximately 145 to 150 tests per day. Toward the end of last week, those numbers actually started to double. We were seeing days of testing of 250 people,” Gray said.

The cost for the additional weeks will be a little over $70,000. However, that cost could change depending on how many tests are administered.

“If the testing is less than (expected), we don’t pay for that. It’s an operational issue and a cost issue. From an operational standpoint it means that when they reach a certain number at the site each day, they stop. This would just give some headroom to their ability to test over 200 people per day, if we have those kind of numbers,” Gray said.

According to Gray, AMI is in high demand throughout the state.

“As the numbers tick up across the Commonwealth, AMI has become even busier. It’s more and more difficult to get these health professionals … we’re very fortunate to already have this resource here in our community,” Gray noted.

Pipe said that keeping AMI active at the site is critical as the county battles the deadly virus.

“The ability for us to lock them down, have them here and sign this contract is critical. My worry is that as soon as they are deployed elsewhere, it will be a challenge to get them back. I think locking them in for those two weeks is critical,” Pipe said.

Commissioner Mark Higgins agreed that the county should continue to use AMI.

“If we are actually seeing more people coming in for testing than we initially contracted for, there must be quite a demand out there,” Higgins remarked.

While commissioner Steve Dershem agreed to continue with testing through Dec. 12, he said that he would like to see the test site close at that time.

“I think we’ve been very generous with providing this service. At some point, I think we probably need to wrap it up,” Dershem said. “At that point, the students will have exited the area and we should have, I hope, some level or normalcy coming back.”

Pipe said that he would prefer to “keep an open mind.”

“Not knowing where we’re going to be in three, four weeks that lie ahead, I would be open to extending it through December, through even January if we have the funds. If we just keep an open mind on that, I think it would be helpful,” Pipe said.

The commissioners will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24 at the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte. The meeting will be televised live on C-NET.

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