Manchester asked to join Rockefeller group

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MANCHESTER — There are still more questions than answers about this summer's COVID-19 testing snafu in which a large number of people initially tested positive and then negative leaving people pointing fingers and confused what it all meant. The event may have put the small town of Manchester on the pandemic testing map.

The Manchester Select Board voted Tuesday night to join the Rockefeller Foundation Testing Solutions Group after an invitation was recently extended by the prestigious organization, giving Manchester a seat at the table with public health authorities from cities, states and Native American nations across the United States.

Manchester Town Manager John O'Keefe said the foundation was looking to partner with smaller communities, but said, part of their interest in Manchester was this summer's testing situation.

"Part of it is our experience with testing," O'Keefe said. "It is a tremendous opportunity."

The only cost to the town is staff time, which O'Keefe recommended include him and the Manchester Town Health Officer, Dr. Thomas Sterling, who is a co-owner of Manchester Medical Center, which was at the center of the testing controversy.

MMC administered the antigen tests that turned up 65 positive results for COVID-19. Follow-up PCR tests only confirmed three of those and a polite war of words followed with MMC defending its tests and the state refusing to accept them.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed there was nothing wrong with the testing equipment, supplies or methods and backed up MMC and the maker of the antigen test although state officials continue to refuse to accept the test results.

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The experience might prove useful in a larger context as many people compare their experiences dealing with the pandemic.

The twice-monthly meetings O'Keefe and Sterling will be part of will "address best practices for public health authorities and officials working to scale up pandemic testing, tracing, and tracking in order to reopen their economies while safeguarding public health," according to an information sheet O'Keefe provided to the board.

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In joining the Rockefeller Foundation, Manchester will be part of a group with other members such as New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Detroit and Honolulu; states including Oregon, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and Rhode Island, and Native American tribes like the Navajo Nation and White Mountain Apache Tribe.

The meetings will drive collaboration on initiatives at the state and local levels, allow participants to engage directly with technical experts, and deal directly with on-the-ground challenges and real-time solutions associated with testing, contact tracing and tracking.

Manchester is by far the smallest town included in the group, which O'Keefe said allows the town to be agile and make quick decisions and changes, something large cities and states can't do.

Sterling said the opportunities are great and could put Manchester on the map for massive testing opportunities.

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"They're trying to rapidly and massively upscale the testing," Sterling said, saying that's where recommendations are pointing. "We're doing the best we can with what we have available."

Sterling said if there is an outbreak in the area, rapid testing and tracing can be the difference between an outbreak getting out of control or snuffing it out quickly.

"The more testing we can do and have rapid results will make for a smaller outbreak," Sterling said. "We're going to save lives."

Sterling said this will allow the town to be on conference calls with individuals across the country to see what the best practices are.

"I don't see a downside here," Sterling said. "It's not going to cost us anything.

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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