A new mobile testing site makes COVID-19 testing more accessible to Binghamton University students with limited transportation.

At the end of September, cases on BU’s campus were increasing steadily, with 134 positive cases from Sept. 26 to Oct. 9. According to Michael Ponticiello, director of Broome County Office of Emergency Services, New York state provided the University with 20 Abbott machines, which are used to test potential COVID-19 samples, in response to the rising numbers. Ponticiello and Rebecca Kaufman, director of the Broome County Health Department, were faced with deciding how to put these tests into effect, and the idea for the mobile test site was born.

“Our teams came up with a two-fold solution,” Ponticiello wrote in an email. “First we pushed about half of the machines into established community health care practices. This included partnerships with [United Health Services], Lourdes and others. The second half of the machines we would deploy in a mobile laboratory that could target key areas of the community. In the spirit of being mobile, the teams came up with the idea of transforming a [Broome County] Transit bus into a mobile laboratory.”

The lab was initially parked in front of BU’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SOPPS) from Nov. 4 to Nov. 9. According to President Harvey Stenger’s statement, this location was chosen in part due to its visibility, which will encourage more students to be tested. The site changes locations weekly, moving to the area with the most need for mobile testing. Currently, it is located at Broome Community College. This testing site only tests those who are symptomatic. Students can either preregister to get tested or walk in. No vehicle is necessary to get tested.

Ponticiello said the aim for this testing site was to increase testing exposure.

“Each week we evaluate where the mobile laboratory would have the most impact on curbing the virus in our community,” Ponticiello wrote. “We evaluate viral spread and look at census data showing areas of our community where households have no vehicles. We then look for community partners who will help amplify our mission.”

After conducting evaluations and consulting with David Hubeny, executive director of BU’s Office of Emergency Management, Ponticiello and his team decided on Johnson City. Hubeny said SOPPS extended its resources to the team, providing a location that fit within the parameters Ponticiello’s team established for its first destination.

“We also provided access to the building’s restrooms for staff,” Hubeny said. “I facilitated communication between [Broome] County and the University and made site visits to ensure everything was operating smoothly.”

Ponticiello noted the role of this location in lowering case numbers and promoting increased accessibility.

“By using the [SOPPS] site, we were able to make rapid testing available where it is needed most,” Ponticiello wrote. “The power of community-based rapid testing is that we were able to conduct nearly 550 tests at the [SOPPS] site with most people having their results in under 30 minutes. As we continue to identify and quickly isolate positive individuals, the COVID-19 spread in the community continues to decrease.”

Vincent Cicalese, a senior majoring in psychology, shared his experience as an off-campus student who lacks sufficient transportation needed to access most rapid testing sites.

“In the beginning of the year they wouldn’t let me get tested on campus since I didn’t live there,” Cicalese said. “Then I couldn’t go to any of the other testing sites because I didn’t have a car. So, I’m really happy they have that now. It was so inconvenient for both me and my friends.”

Olivia Walters, an undeclared freshman, shared her support for the University’s installation of a mobile testing site.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” Walters said. “It will make testing more accessible to students [with] limited access [to transportation].”