Nanticoke, April 15, 2020 – State Senator John Yudichak (I-Luzerne/Carbon) has released the following statement on the planned mass testing site in Wilkes-Barre Township:
“The Pennsylvania Department of Health, without prior consultation, informed members of the Luzerne County state legislative delegation that a COVID-19 mass-testing site is scheduled to open this Sunday, April 19th, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township.
Individuals will have to pre-register to be tested for the COVID-19 virus, and registration will not be limited to Luzerne County residents. The Department of Health is encouraging residents from counties throughout northeastern Pennsylvania to travel to the site for testing.
I spoke with Department of Health officials last week, and again this week, to encourage them to consult with local health care professionals and with local leaders. Although I fully support efforts to aggressively and responsibly test for the COVID-19 virus, the shortcomings in the vetting process of the Luzerne County site raises many concerns that need to be addressed.
The establishment of a mass-testing site comes at a time when data gathering failures are being reported in Pennsylvania’s current testing system which is preventing the collection of vital information important to epidemiologist tracking of the coronavirus. Marianne Downes, the incoming head for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, recently said, “The collection of samples at drive-thru and rapid facilities is unique to the pandemic, complicates it, and makes it a much larger mess.”
When asked if hospitals officials from Luzerne County were solicited for input on the decision to construct a mass-testing site in Luzerne County, the Department of Health indicated no health care professionals from northeastern Pennsylvania were consulted on the subject of establishing a mass-testing site or on ways to improve accurate data gathering through the testing process.
In addition to the lack of collaboration with local hospitals, it is also clear that neither the Mayor of Wilkes-Barre Township nor the Mayor of the City of Wilkes-Barre were consulted by Department of Health officials about the construction of a mass-testing site that would impact their respective communities. Considerable local resources and services may be necessary to support the new test site, but the Department has not shared the potential cost of those services with local communities.
When asked how members of our community, like the Latino Community in Hazleton, who are dependent on public or private mass transportation, would be able to access the testing site, we were told a transportation solution would evolve as the site is developed.
I am increasingly concerned by the lack of collaboration exercised by the Pennsylvania Department of Health in response to the COVID-19 crisis in Luzerne County.
The department’s slow response to addressing language barriers in our Latino Community in Hazleton, the lack of COVID-19 data sharing with our County EMA professionals and first responders, and the department’s inadequate enforcement measures in our regional industrial parks have all led to the increasing deployment of limited local resources to address COVID-19 crisis in Luzerne County.
It is especially disconcerting that the Department of Health would resist collaborating with local health care professionals who are battling COVID-19 in the field. From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, I have urged leaders to listen to our health care professionals who are on the ground in this fight.
I am hearing more test kits are needed in area hospitals where the COVID-19 surge is occurring, more personal protection equipment is needed across the broad spectrum of health care professionals, and our region’s nursing homes need more resources to ensure the safety of their staff and the individuals entrusted to their care.
With our hospital workers being stretched to the point of mental and physical exhaustion and with our healthcare system being strained to its limit financially, why would we divert resources to a mass-test site that may contribute to data gathering flaws in Pennsylvania’s testing system and that may present little immediate value to our collective efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Luzerne County?
I appreciate the work the dedicated staff of the Department of Health are doing every day. Secretary Levine and her staff are working to meet an unprecedented public health crisis. The unique challenge of COVID-19; however, is not an open-ended opportunity for unilateral decisions that negate the need for all of us to collaborate on best practice strategies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and protect public health.