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COVID is still spreading in the North Country. Not all tests are created equal

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media

Counties around the North Country are reporting about 100 new coronavirus cases each week, which is a long way from some of the worst surges of the pandemic.

Back in January of 2021, places like St. Lawrence County were reporting 100 cases a day. Back then, there were COVID deaths around the region almost daily.

Peter Rasmussen remembers that surge and how it highlighted the importance of getting tested. Rasmussen works for Quadrant Biosciences, a Syracuse-based diagnostic company.

“Everyone’s focus for those first few weeks of January was mobilizing and standing up community test sites to serve all of New York.”

New York State partnered with Quadrant Biosciences to get those testing sites up and running. This time last year, places like Plattsburgh, Potsdam and Queensbury were testing a hundred or more people a day.

We’re now also a long way from that demand for COVID tests. Infection rates have slowed, so some state-run sites like the one in Potsdam are now closed.

And most folks now take at-home rapid tests, but Rasmussen says you can’t always rely on those results. “A lot of the at-home tests don’t have as good of an ability to pick up low viral loads.”

So you could have the coronavirus for days before a rapid test comes back positive. PCR tests like the one Quadrant Biosciences does are more reliable, says Rasmussen.

“We can pick up a positive case in the earlier part of their infection, that way by identifying the case earlier on, getting that person isolated or quarantined will reduce the overall spread coming from that one person.”

A lot of health care centers and hospitals around the North Country are still administering PCR tests, often with results in a day or two. They’re also widely available at pharmacies like Kinney’s and Walgreens.

Health officials say if you had direct contact with someone with COVID or if you have symptoms you should get tested.

Meanwhile, children now as young as five years old can get boosted if they’ve had the initial two doses of the vaccine. Getting vaccinated and boosted, particularly if you’re especially vulnerable to infections, is still the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19.

Emily Russell covers the Adirondack State Park for NCPR.