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Helming: Offer free tests for nursing home visitors

The senator says constituents in her rural district report trouble accessing free COVID-19 testing that's now required to visit nursing homes

Julie Sherwood
Wayne Post

CANANDAIGUA — Under new state guidelines, visitors to nursing homes must present a verified negative COVID-19 test result within the last seven days. State Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua, is pushing for all of that testing to be free.

“Many people in my district, particularly those in more rural areas, do not have convenient access to free COVID-19 testing,” stated Helming in a release. She added that “many asymptomatic individuals who are able to get the test are paying a significant fee for it, in some cases, nearly $200 or more.”

Testing is free to eligible New Yorkers if ordered by a health care provider and performed at a test site run by New York State. At other testing sites, individuals may be responsible for fees associated with the test.

Helming mentioned that people may have to test multiple times if they want to see their family member in a nursing home again after the seven days.

“One woman recently called my office and said she decided to pay $70 for a taxi ride to a free testing site an hour away, because it was cheaper than paying the $175 she was quoted for a test near her,” Helming added.

In rural areas in particular, there is a lack of testing sites that can perform tests for asymptomatic people, according to Helming, whose district covers multiple counties in the Finger Lakes region including Ontario and Wayne. She added that people who exhibit no symptoms may not be able to get a COVID-19 test through their health care provider.

The new guidelines that took effect Sept. 17 are noted on the Ontario County Public Health website, The site provides a link to information and to schedule a drive-thru test. Testing is free to all eligible New Yorkers as ordered by a healthcare provider. You can also call the NYS COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-364-3065.

“If you go to a test site run by New York State, there is never any charge for your test,” according to the state website. The site warns there may be fees associated with tests operated by local governments, private companies including pharmacies and medical practices or not-for-profit organizations. 

Helming added that New York State permits visits to inmates at state correctional facilities, without the requirement that visitors present a negative COVID-19 test. “If the state can allow inmates to have visitors without a test, and on top of that, be able to exchange a quick hug, surely they can do the same for our nursing home residents,” stated Helming.

“With this new testing requirement, the state is only putting an additional burden on family members, who are now dealing with another difficult, and costly, barrier to seeing their loved ones. I remain deeply concerned about the physical and mental health of our nursing home residents isolated from their families,” she added.

The state announced it now has a new, less intrusive test that was developed by the state’s Wadsworth Lab. The new test is done through a saliva sample and a self-administered short nasal swab in the presence of a healthcare professional. Additionally, health care professionals can self-administer the test without another health care professional present.