As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ebb and flow on the Island and around the world, Island Health Care chief executive officer Cynthia Mitchell said she keeps one thought at the forefront.

IHC CEO Cynthia Mitchell (left) and public health officer Kathleen Samways. — Ray Ewing

“We’ve learned to never think that it’s over,” Ms. Mitchell said.

IHC is a federally qualified community health center, its mission to provide health care for all Islanders regardless of income or insurance status. The pandemic put the small organization center stage as it worked with other Island agencies on testing, contact tracing, obtaining vaccines when the hospital could not meet demand, and providing care when needed.

As the only federally qualified health care entity of its kind on the Island, IHC has been at the forefront of the recent surge in the distribution of at-home test kits, which have to be ordered through the federal government.

Ms. Mitchell said IHC has received around 33,000 tests to date, distributing all but 1,500 to the six Island towns through their boards of health.

“It’s always a challenge to deal with federal programs — bureaucracy,” Ms. Mitchell said. “They’re basically building the planes as they’re flying them.”

But IHC has a partner in working through the distribution of test kits to Islanders — the Island boards of health. The boards have been partners through much of IHC’s pandemic response, from creating where people can submit their positive tests results to contact tracing and providing weekly updates on the state of the virus on the Island.

Ms. Mitchell said the partnership has been key throughout the pandemic — especially when it comes to messaging surrounding tests.

Picking up a home test kit in Oak Bluffs last month. — Ray Ewing

“The rapid test messaging is a great example of that relationship,” she said.

From the beginning, IHC also has been a key component of TestMV, the unique public-private partnership consisting of Island Health Care, the Island boards of health, Quest Diagnostics and Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. The test site opened at the regional high school in June 2020 and offered free PCR testing to anyone who needed or simply wanted it. By August 2020 this led to Dukes County having the second highest per-capita testing rate in the country.

This summer TestMV moved to the West Tisbury School and in the fall relocated to the Agricultural Hall grounds, where it remains today.

At its height, in November 2020, TestMV administered 478 PCR tests for a one-day record. With the rise of at-home test kits, however, those numbers have dropped considerably. Last week, only 100 tests were administered.

Ms. Mitchell confirmed that the rise of at-home testing has led to a paradigm shift in the demand for PCR testing.

“They’ve kind of almost flipped in terms of volume,” she said.

But while acknowledging the possibility of TestMV downsizing as it administers fewer tests, she said PCR testing remains an important piece of the Island’s response to Covid. PCR results are still needed for some travel and medical procedures, and Ms. Mitchell said it is important for people who test negative on a rapid test but remain symptomatic to get a more accurate PCR test.

Ms. Mitchell said she doesn’t see TestMV going anywhere anytime soon.

“It continues to be important because it’s the place to get a PCR test,” she said.

But even as demand at TestMV lessens, the role of IHC continues to grow. In addition to managing TestMV and ordering and organizing at-home test kit deliveries, IHC plays a vital role in supporting the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, including by obtaining more vaccines to meet high demand through visits by a mobile vaccine bus, and by providing health care throughout the pandemic. This is in addition to the organization’s central mission of providing quality health care for all.

“For our small staff . . . the pressure is enormous,” Ms. Mitchell said.

She continued: “It’s exactly the reason health centers exist, to respond to community needs.”

In addition to crediting her staff throughout the pandemic, Ms. Mitchell pointed to the Island community in general.

“All in all, the Vineyard can be proud of its response to the pandemic,” she said. “And I say that, speaking for community members as well.”