CLAREMONT — Nearly two dozen hospitals across New Hampshire are planning to launch or expand their respective community COVID-19 testing sites in the coming week as part of a statewide effort to transition from its fixed locations.

In a news conference held Thursday, New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said that the state will begin to phase out and move the operations and resources of its nine community-based testing sites — operated by the New Hampshire National Guard — to hospitals and urgent care centers throughout the state. Shibinette said that the fixed locations will not shut down until medical facilities notify the state that they are adequately prepared for the transition.

The move is part of a push to further residents’ accessibility to testing for the novel coronavirus.

“The access to testing should not be an issue for anybody at all,” Shibinette said Thursday. “It’s important that nobody needs to drive long distances to get a COVID test.”

However, the change still leaves few nearby options for where residents of western New Hampshire in particular can go for community-based COVID-19 testing. According to Gov. Chris Sununu, there will be only four locations — two hospitals and two urgent care centers — in all of Cheshire, Grafton and Sullivan Counties. A testing site located at the Claremont Middle School operated by the New Hampshire National Guard is one of those nine.

Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont has been managing a drive-thru center and screening hotline to test symptomatic patients for the virus since mid-March, but now the facility is preparing for a potentially significant increase in the volume of people wanting to get tested through the hospital’s urgent care.

In an interview with the Eagle Times on Tuesday, Valley Regional Healthcare Interim President and CEO Deanna Howard said that the hospital’s urgent care has noticed an influx in the number of out-of-staters in the area. Combined with a preexisting uncertainty over whether or not the facility will be able to handle an exceedingly high volume of requests to acquire a test until the newly configured operation has been officially put into place, Howard wants to be careful about who receives the finite resources.

“What we don’t want to do is to overextend ourselves to non-Sullivan County people such that we can’t meet the needs of the community. So that will be the balance we are trying to look at,” Howard said. “We really want to be balanced in our approach to meeting the needs of the community and then meeting the needs of people outside the community. That’s really going to be our challenge for the next few weeks.”

This comes just days after Valley Regional Healthcare announced that the temporary closing of its Charlestown clinic had been made permanent due to financial impacts directly related to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

For more information on testing availability at Valley Regional Hospital’s urgent care center, please visit VRH.org or call (603) 542-7850.

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