Health Care

Burlington International Airport opens new rapid Covid-19 testing site

Albert Stringer, an advanced emergency medical technician with Newport Ambulance Service, has his sinuses swabbed to test for the Covid-19 virus in Newport earlier this year. A new rapid testing site opened Wednesday at Burlington International Airport. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A local medical company has opened up a rapid Covid-19 testing site at Burlington International Airport in an effort to limit the potential spread of the virus through one of the region’s most active travel hubs. 

However, unlike in other states, the testing won’t let travelers skirt their quarantining responsibilities if the test results are negative for the virus.

The site, which opened officially Wednesday, is being operated by Garnet Transport Medicine of Essex Junction. It’s located in an isolated area of the airport where the shuttle and bus operations were previously housed, according to Ryan Ferris, president and CEO of Garnet, who explained the testing setup at Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s Wednesday press conference. 

There, travelers and residents can either get a Covid-19 antigen test or a PCR test. According to the Food and Drug Administration, an antigen test detects proteins unique to Covid-19 on the surface of the virus. Antigen tests can detect the coronavirus faster than a PCR test, which is a molecular test that identifies the virus’ genetic makeup. But antigen tests can be less precise. 

At Garnet’s airport site, antigen test results can be delivered within three hours. A PCR test will require a turnaround of 36 to 48 hours. Without insurance, an antigen test would cost $125, a PCR test $175. In its contract with the city, approved in late September by the City Council, Garnet will pay the city $2 for every test conducted. 

While a negative test is good news, it won’t allow visitors to ignore Vermont’s seven-day quarantine requirements. All visitors who are traveling from an area above 400 Covid-19 cases per million of population must quarantine for 14 days. At the seven-day mark, the Vermont Department Health says visitors can get a PCR test. If its results are negative, then their quarantine can end. 

“The governor’s executive orders and the recommendations and requirements for the Health Department still stands,” Ferris said. “We don’t supersede or or take place of any of that.”

He said the tests are a “good passive surveillance tool” that will be used to “catch, potentially, somebody that may be asymptomatic and positive.” 

Other states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine, have allowed visitors to cross their borders without quarantining as long as they have tested negative for the virus. 

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While Weinberger applauded the new testing site at the airport, he reminded residents that the tests are not a “get-out-of-quarantine free card.”

“We have thousands of people coming through the airport on a regular basis. Many people getting off the plane are coming from places where there’s a much higher prevalence of the virus than there is here in Chittenden County,” Weinberger said. 

“We would hate to see the airport become a significant vector for virus transmission here in Chittenden County. And so I think having this service, having this additional layer of screening and testing is, you know, it’s not a panacea. It’s not perfect,” Weinberger said. “But there isn’t anything until we have a vaccine.” 

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.

Email: [email protected]

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