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Onondaga County doubling testing capacity for symptomatic students

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A program to test symptomatic school children in Onondaga County for the coronavirus has been so successful, parents have run into major delays trying to make appointments. But the county hopes streamlining the process and expanding capacity will help.

Since the saliva-based testing started at NBT Stadium nearly two weeks ago, nearly 750 symptomatic children have been tested at the drive-thru site. But Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said Thursday the demand has created delays for frustrated parents trying to make an appointment.

"Sometimes you get punished for your success and intent," he said. "Because we make that available, everybody wants it, then the phone calls get backed up, because nobody thought we were going to get as many as we did."

Starting Friday, Upstate will begin taking online registrations, as well as increasing testing capacity.

"Overall, what we now know, is there’s increased demand for the saliva test. So by streamlining the registration process and not making a phone call, that’s going to help," McMahon said. "And also, because we know there’s the demand, the capacity will be increased, so they can do more per day."

Cayuga Health will also be on hand at the testing site to offer nasal swab tests that can give results in as little as 15 minutes. Ultimately, McMahon figures this means at least 250 symptomatic kids can get tested every day.

McMahon is also hoping to make headway on a related issue. The state requires a doctor's note before a child can go back to school, and that’s created delays. He said counties are working with state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to eliminate that requirement.

"We talked about it in our control room calls. The health commissioners have talked about it with Dr. Zucker. I think the state is looking at this right now, so I think we’ll have some progress."

McMahon said parents can also get their kids tested for the coronavirus at doctor’s offices, or other community testing sites, but he admits the less intrusive saliva test is the first choice for many parents.