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Roswell Park says it could be doing twice as much COVID-19 testing if it had the supplies

Carlos Osorio / Associated Press

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center would like to massively increase its COVID-19 testing, particularly instant testing, but the test materials remain elusive.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday visited President Donald Trump and Roswell Park CEO Candace Johnson to discuss testing, because testing is considered the key to starting the country up again. The president maintains the country is in "good shape" regarding testing, while the governor is calling for more federal assistance.

Roswell Park has elaborate testing equipment and elaborate testing of its own workers. The hospital did that before coronavirus because patients are often immune-compromised and vulnerable to the health issues of others.

Johnson said one of the offshoots of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the facility isn't doing routine cancer screening like mammograms, including her own mammogram.

"This year on my birthday, which was just a few weeks ago, I couldn't go in because we aren't doing screening mammographies. I have no issues, I have no problems," Johnson said. "But if you're a woman and you've found a lump in your breast, maybe you could wait. But that's a different situation. That's not a screening mammogram. You need to have that mammogram and you need to determine the extent of what that lump is."

Johnson said the facility needs more coronavirus screening, like instant tests, so cancer patients feel safe coming there for treatment and not avoiding Roswell Park.

"We're using machines, but we're limited by swabs and reagents. So that currently, we maybe have a capacity to do a couple hundred tests a day and we're only doing 80-90," she said. "We just don't have the reagents. We have to use them because it's so important for our patients and our employees to be able to test ourselves. We don't have capacity to test people on the outside."

She said patients need to get their cancer treatment and not have to worry about the virus. With instant testing, they could be checked right at the door.

"We're a cancer center, so one of the things that I worry about is that cancer patients are afraid and they're afraid to come through our doors because they don't want to get COVID," Johnson said. "But they may have cancer and if they don't come see us, they may die of their cancer. And so we're trying to make our hospital and our ambulatory clinics as safe as possible. Testing is key to that."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.