POLAND, Ohio — Hometown Pharmacy locations are now offering testing for COVID-19 that use an individual’s saliva rather than samples gathered with a nasal swab, and is partnering with local businesses to provide that testing.
After piloting saliva-based testing in the spring, the locally owned pharmacy chain began offering it in its stores about a month ago, said Stephanie Mrozek, pharmacist with Hometown Pharmacy Solutions, who heads strategic projects for the company. To her knowledge, it is the only saliva-based testing available locally.
“We just saw a need in our communities,” particularly with students returning to school this fall, contact tracing and testing requirements for people to return to school or work, she said. “We felt it was a good opportunity to offer to the community.
“We all kind of thought COVID was dying down and then the delta variant hit, and that kind of coincided with cough and cold and flu season and kids returning to school,” she continued. “Testing seems to be one of the ways to try to control the spread.”
Saliva-based DNA testing has been around for about 20 years, but the testing company Hometown is using, Spectrum Solutions, received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about a year ago for using it to test for COVID-19, making it the first saliva-based COVID-19 testing option on the market, she reported.
Individuals interested in the testing can go to the Hometown Pharmacy website at TheHometownPharmacies.com and click on a COVID testing button at the top, which will direct the person to a form to fill out.
“Then you go to the Hometown Pharmacy that’s closest to you,” she said. “We collect the sample, we send it the lab and then the lab reports the results directly to the patient.”
The PCR – or polymerase chain reaction – testing method is 99.98% accurate and eliminates the need for nasal swabbing, which can be uncomfortable, she said. The saliva-base method is “definitely more patient friendly,” she remarked. Patients typically will receive the results within 48 hours but, “We have seen it quicker than that.”
Garry Mrozek, Hometown Pharmacy CEO and Stephanie’s father, reported he received his results within 32 hours.
Most testing is covered under insurance, but there is a government fund available to cover the uninsured, Stephanie Mrozek said. Funding is available for individuals who report having two symptoms of COVID-19 and for those who are exposed to the coronavirus.
“There are some limitations,” she said. “You can’t get tested every day just for the fun of it.”
Response to the availability of the saliva testing is greater than had been anticipated, Garry Mrozek said.
“Across our stores we’re doing about 100 tests a day,” his daughter affirmed. Employees report they are seeing a lot of school-age kids coming in for testing after they’ve been told they might have been exposed because many schools are requiring testing before they can return to school.
Valley businesses also are contracting with Hometown Pharmacy to provide testing, Garry Mrozek said.
“What’s kind of neat about what we’re doing [for some businesses] is not only are we going to be doing their testing, but we’re doing clinics, we’re going to be doing the vaccinations, flu shots, Shingrix shots [for shingles],” he said.
So far, 10 businesses or schools have signed up for testing. Among the businesses where Hometown Pharmacy will offer onsite services is Blair Strip Steel in New Castle, Pa.
The company, which has 85 employees, has been working with the pharmacy “through the whole COVID process,” Scott McDowell, Blair Strip’s president, said. The pharmacy already has provided COVID vaccinations for employees and will be doing flu shots.
“It’s nice to be able to pick up the phone and talk to somebody right away who knows what’s going on” from earlier in the pandemic to “this process now,” McDowell said.
Calling ahead for the testing is recommended and collection can be done through the drive-thru window if the location has one, Stephanie Mrozek said.
“We’re trying to prevent people from [entering the pharmacy] just to try to control the spread,” she said. If the location doesn’t have a drive-thru window, a pharmacy technician will come to the vehicle and provide instructions on what to do with the collection tube.
Pictured: The Hometown Pharmacy’s Garry Mrozek, CEO, and Stephanie Mrozek, pharmacist.