State money for COVID-19 testing is starting to arrive in Barnstable County from legislative earmarks.
The county Department of Health and Environment plans to establish its own testing sites.
Department director Sean O’Brien said the first batch of funding is $300,000 secured by Rep. Dylan Fernandes in the supplemental budget in July, and it must be used in Falmouth, which is in Fernandes’ district.
“We're looking at locations in that area, and actually looking at them very closely,” O’Brien said. “We've had some discussions with the town, and hopefully we'll have some good news in the next week or two.”
Members of the Cape legislative delegation secured a total of $550,000 for COVID-19 testing in the supplemental budget. As the state releases additional funding, the county hopes to establish testing locations on the Mid Cape and Outer Cape as well, and possibly a mobile testing unit.
State Sen. Julian Cyr placed an amendment in the fiscal year 2021 Senate budget, passed Wednesday, to add another $200,000 for testing. That bill is subject to the conference committee process, which reconciles the House and Senate budgets.
COVID-19 cases on Cape Cod and the Islands are rising, following the trend statewide and across most of the nation.
The Community Health Center of Cape Cod, which offers testing in Falmouth and Mashpee, has seen an increase in demand for testing, according to CEO Karen Gardner. She said the number of calls her staff received asking about testing doubled from the week before.
The center does between 100 to 150 tests a week, and anyone on Cape Cod is welcome, with or without symptoms. The cost varies, depending on insurance, and the center uses an income-based sliding scale for people without insurance.
Gardner said that in some cases, the test is free.
As Thanksgiving approaches next week, O’Brien, Cyr, and other officials are urging residents to celebrate only with their own households or in virtual ways, such as video calls.
Cyr said people should avoid travel and high-risk behavior. For example, longer gatherings are riskier than shorter ones, and indoor gatherings are riskier than outdoor ones, he said.
“We live in New England. We aim for our houses to be pretty airtight and to keep in the heat, particularly this time of year,” he said. “That means it's a very efficient environment for covid-19 to spread.”
Indoor gatherings without masks are considered high-risk.
Cyr also highlighted the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that returning college students be considered a member of a separate household for public health purposes.