Legislators, hospitals lobby Hochul for resources to run state testing site at FMCC

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As COVID-19 cases surge across the state — including in Fulton and Montgomery counties — Fulton-Montgomery Community College is ready to ramp up its COVID-19 testing operations.

All the college needs in order to once again host a high-volume, state-run testing site is Gov. Kathy Hochul’s approval to send testing kits and manpower, according to Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam. He, along with Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R,C,I,SAM-Meco, has been lobbying the governor to ramp up the Johnstown testing site into a full-blown community testing location.

Santabarbara and Smullen said the need for more community testing was brought to their attention by Fulton and Montgomery county healthcare facilities — St. Mary’s Healthcare and Nathan Littauer, which have been overwhelmed as a result of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

“St. Mary’s and Nathan Littauer expressed the surge has begun to weigh on their ability to help and heal patients in need of their care,” Smullen said.

Fulton County’s average positive test rate over the last week was 14.4%, according to New York State Department of Health data. In Montgomery County, the rate was 13%. Statewide, 348,911 tests on Jan. 4 resulted in 77,859 positive cases, or about 22.31% positive.

Santabarbara said the state-run community testing site at the college can meet the needs of rural residents, who may be older and/or live in remote places where winter weather can impact their ability to travel.

“Rural areas are often overlooked when it comes to resources, and in this case, we’re talking about healthcare,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is that, when it comes to resources with vaccination sites and testing sites, is that there are very limited resources in these rural communities — or very long travel times.”

Daniel Fogarty, FMCC’s director of External Partnerships and Applied Learning, said the college has never stopped testing operations since opening up as a site in November 2020. In that time, 7,714 tests have been conducted at the college, he said. But the college has scaled back operations to focus mainly on the roughly 2,000 students and staff, he said. Now, according to Fogarty, the college is ready to meet the community’s rising need.

“We let the state and the assemblymen know that the campus and the college is very much open to partnering in any way they deem necessary,” Fogarty said.

Fogarty said the college, located on State Highway 67 in Johnstown, has moved its testing location many times depending on need — from the gymnasium to larger classrooms to the public safety office, where testing currently takes place. He said the college has a plan, which includes public safety officers equipped to handle crowds, to adjust its testing operations very easily.

“We can get it done right away. As soon as we have that need, we can deliver,” Fogarty said. “One benefit to the campus is we have the space.”

Smullen said supplying resources to the college’s testing operations is a pressing need.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brings with it rapidly changing circumstances that we must be proactive in addressing,” he said. “Given how quickly the omicron variant is spreading, we must rapidly build our testing capacity so people can continue to work and our kids can go to school. My hope is that the governor will work swiftly to get a testing site operational within our community as soon as possible.”

The governor, who delivered her State of the State address on Wednesday, has not yet responded to the request, and her office did not respond to a request for comment made on Wednesday. Smullen and Santabarbara are hopeful the request for resources will be answered soon.

“The indication is they do want to deploy resources to rural communities. But timing is everything,” Santabarbara said. “I’m all for hearing the governor’s office say, ‘we want to deploy resources in rural communities,’ but the question is when.”

Richard Hyde, a St. Mary’s spokesperson, said the healthcare facility is glad to have bipartisan lobbying support behind the state-run community testing site request.

“It’s an amazing act of collaboration through our New York Assemblyman Santabarbara and Assemblyman Smullen, Fulton and Montgomery County Departments of Public Health, and the two prominent healthcare delivery organizations of Nathan Littauer Hospital & Nursing Home and St. Mary’s Healthcare to request state assistance in the form of a state-run COVID-19 testing site,” Hyde said in an email.

Fogarty said FMCC is ready to do its part, and this is a facet of being a community college.

“We’re the community’s college,” he said. “We typically come forward to help the community whenever we can. And this is definitely something, with our space and ample parking, that we can do.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

By Andrew Waite

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