Testing Will Be Key To Discerning COVID-19 From Flu

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital is conducting drive-up testing at the hospital property and at East Hampton High School. Michael Wright

The coming flu season and the similarities in symptoms of the flu and a coronavirus infection is expected to strain testing facilities’ ability to quickly confirm which, if either, infection a sick person has.

Both Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Peconic Bay Medical Center and their associated clinics have been bolstering testing and laboratory abilities in preparation for a second wave of COVID-19 infections, and testing for coronavirus infections on the East End are already yielding faster than in the rest of Suffolk County and the state.

Stony Brook Southampton is turning around COVID-19 tests in one to three days, and PBMC, which is part of the Northwell Health network, is getting results in as little as a few hours to 24 hours, according to that hospital’s CEO, Andrew Mitchell. Test results in other parts of Suffolk are still taking as long five to seven days to come back.

With more patients starting to fall ill with the flu this fall, discerning COVID-19 infections from flu will be more difficult, but just as urgent, health officials say.

“Our core lab has substantially increased our capacity to test for both flu and COVID,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I don’t think any of us can predict what winter is going to look like, but we are prepared.”

Both hospital networks are collecting and processing tests at their hospital facilities as well as at remote sites and clinics — Stony Brook at East Hampton High School and Northwell at the GoHealth urgent care clinics in Bridgehampton, Hampton Bays and Riverhead.

Stony Brook Southampton has ordered $500,000 worth of new diagnostic testing equipment for its laboratory to speed processing of tests in anticipation of a second wave of infections this fall and winter.

Hospital officials have acknowledged that blood work for other diagnostic tests has been lagging at times, however, due to the priority given COVID-19 matters.

“Most lab testing at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital has not been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and laboratory test results are available in our Patient Portal the day following completion,” hospital spokeswoman Barbara Jo Howard said in a message this week. “However, the high volume and priority of COVID-19 PCR testing has strained laboratory resources nationwide resulting in longer turnaround times for some non-COVID-19 PCR reference tests such as Tick Borne Disease Panels.”

All COVID-19 tests are free for those with insurance, but tests at most local clinics come with a fee. New York State mandates free testing, however, and anyone in need of a free test can call the New York State Department of Health COVID-19 hotline 1-888-364-3065 for information on how to obtain a test at no cost without insurance.

Ms. Howard said that currently COVID-19 tests at the SBSH drive-up testing at the hospital cost $125 plus a $46 collection fee for those without health insurance.

Cases of COVID-19 have been gradually but steadily ticking up on the South Fork. About 20 new cases have been logged by the Suffolk County Health Department in East Hampton Town this month, and about 30 have cropped up in Southampon Town. Countywide, the incidence of new cases has remained low with around 1-percent or less of those tested for the virus each day returning positive results — a level that is seen as under control by health experts.

Both area hospitals have seen scattered new serious cases of COVID-19 infections in recent weeks. Peconic Bay currently has four patients admitted with infections and Stony Brook Southampton, after two weeks without any admitted patients, currently has three.