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Local lab offers free testing for 'tripledemic' illnesses (and our growing need to know)

A woman wearing a mask talks to a healthcare employee wearing a white lab coat.
Brandon Clifton
CDC/ Robin Spratling
A healthcare provider consults a patient.

A private lab in Onondaga County is offering free tests for COVID-19, flu and RSV, a three-disease test that its website shows is usually $140. The one-day event hosted by Drakos Clinical Laboratories in North Syracuse comes amid worries of a tripledemic, and the public's growing demand to specify an illness.

Drakos will offer free tests Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the North Area Volunteer Ambulance Corporation. Northeast Area Manager Tia Santorelli said the one-day event is to help people stay safe during a high-risk time of the year.

“Just it being respiratory season and post-holiday, we wanted to open something up to the community to be able to test so people know if they picked anything up over being out over New Year’s or visiting people for the holidays,” Santorelli said.

The combined threat of RSV, COVID and flu has health officials raising concerns, and is putting added stress on medical facilities, but recent data shows the pressure may be decreasing. Limited CDC data shows positivity rates for RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, are declining in New York, and the COVID positivity and case rates in the county are lower than previous years, according to the state. New York's flu tracker also shows influenza is declining in the county, but the numbers are still higher than past seasons.

But Onondaga County's Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Alexander said the increased availability of testing options sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic may have more people wanting to know the identify of an illness, rather than needing to know.

“Never before in our history have we been able to develop testing capabilities like we did with the COVID pandemic and that was truly a huge scientific success, so now people you know reset their expectations,” Alexander said.

He said you may not need to zero in on the specific virus unless symptoms are severe and require medical intervention or if you or someone you're close to is at high risk of complications from the illness. But he said more people should take advantage of prevention strategies, warning that flu shot rates are lower than last year and only about 25% of Onondaga County residents are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations.

"We could prevent so many hospitalizations and potential deaths just by getting boosted. And I know that people are frustrated—'I don’t want another shot'—but it’s really important," he said.

Alexander said people should prioritize their provider or pharmacy if they need a vaccine, test or other care. He said the county isn't planning on setting up any of its own testing sites but will help if necessary, as surges can be unpredictable.

Tarryn Mento is an award-winning digital, audio and video journalist with experience reporting from Arizona, Southern California, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. Tarryn produces in-depth and investigative content for WAER while overseeing the station's student reporter experience. She is also an adjunct professor at Syracuse University.