Coronavirus testing stands to become much more widely available in Western New York thanks to several moves announced Thursday.
Kaleida Health, which operates three Covid-19 testing sites in Erie County, announced that it will open those sites to people without symptoms of the virus, although a doctor's prescription is still required.
In addition, Rep. Brian Higgins said free testing – sought by him and other political leaders – will begin Monday at two local Rite Aid pharmacies.
Also on Monday, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center will start public testing seven days a week at its main site and four days a week at two outlying locations.
And Rep. Tom Reed announced that he had struck a deal with Quest Diagnostics that will bring 3,000 additional tests per day to Western New York, the Finger Lakes region and the Southern Tier starting on May 18.
Reed sought those tests in light of the testing requirement set in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's guidelines for when parts of the state can reopen.
"There can be no question that the testing requirements in order to reopen can now be met clearly by what is being provided here today," said Reed, a Corning Republican.
Here's a closer look at the testing initiatives announced Thursday.
Kaleida's testing for the general public is the latest expansion of a program that has steadily grown since the start of the pandemic.
"The expanded testing by Kaleida Health is designed to accommodate anyone in the Western New York community who believes that they may have been exposed to or at risk for Covid-19," Kaleida said in a statement.
People who are tested without having symptoms will not be subject to the county's isolation order for test subjects, Kaleida said. Test results come back in 48 to 72 hours.
Kaleida's testing sites are in a former Visiting Nursing Association building at 2100 Wehrle Drive, Amherst; a parking lot at 28 Best St., Buffalo; and in the Leroy R. Coles Jr. Library at 1187 East Delavan Ave., Buffalo. Appointments can be made with Kaleida by calling its hotline at 859-3222, which operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, or through kaleidahealth.org/coronavirus.
Rite Aid's tests will be available at the stores at 2474 Bailey Ave., Buffalo, and 1030 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls. Testing appointments can be made at riteaid.com. Tests will be available seven days a week at the stores' drive-thru windows.
Higgins said the Rite Aid testing sites will make the Covid-19 tests easier to obtain.
“Access to testing has been a longstanding issue," said Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat. "The expansion of retail and government testing is critical to reopening our economy and will allow residents to make informed choices to better protect their families, co-workers and to limit community spread.”
Niagara Falls Memorial
Appointment-only drive-thru testing will be available at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center from 8 a.m. to noon daily starting Monday.
Also next week, tests will be available from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday at a satellite site at Summit Healthplex, 6934 Williams Road, Wheatfield.
During the week of May 18, tests will be available at those same times at a Niagara Falls Memorial satellite site at Eastern Niagara County Health Home, 80 Main St., Lockport.
Those test sites will alternate in the following weeks, spokesman Patrick J. Bradley said. Prescriptions are required, and appointments must be made by calling 278-4496.
Reed announced that the deal he struck with Quest will deliver test kits to places that need them in the state's Western New York, Finger Lakes and Southern Tier economic development regions. The number of kits available from Quest is enough for about 3 million people – approximately the population of those three regions combined.
"This is meant to be a supplemental source that can be turned to, wherever it needs to go," Reed said.
He said he reached out to Quest and negotiated the deal, knowing that testing throughout the regions would have to increase if they were to meet the governor's standards for reopening the economy.
That's particularly important to Southern Tier counties because Pennsylvania businesses will be reopening soon, meaning New York companies stand to lose out to competitors south of the state line unless New York starts reopening, said Chautauqua County Executive Paul M. Wendel Jr.
"With these numbers (of tests), we feel that this will easily get us to that safe position to reopen," Wendel said.