STAMFORD - Mayor David Martin has made it his mission to set up more COVID-19 testing sites around the city.

He has worked with the health department, Stamford Hospital and private medical practices. He is redeploying city nurses and in some cases using city property. He has called forth a corps of volunteers to help.

If only he could get the tests.

“We need at least 5,000 tests a week in order to really protect people, and we’re not anywhere close to that,” Martin said. “If we could do the number of tests we need to do, we could slow down the spread of this disease.”

But, like government officials everywhere, he is running into a wall - in the worldwide coronavirus pandemic there are massive shortages of not only the tests that determine infection, but all the things needed to conduct the tests. That includes chemicals, tools called pipettes used to transfer liquids, swabs used to collect samples, and protective gear health workers use to take the samples.

Testing is so important, Martin said, that he will build the sites and wait for the tests to come.

“It would save lives,” the mayor said.

He explained.

“A third of the people who come down with this virus never show symptoms. Another third have only mild symptoms. Both groups are spreading the disease and don’t know it,” Martin said. “There are, more than likely, people working in the hospital who are positive and interacting with patients. And we don’t know about it because we don’t have tests.”

The federal Food and Drug Administration recently approved tests from two companies that say they can deliver results within 45 minutes, and from another company that says it can produce results within 13 minutes. It’s not clear when and where the tests will be available.

It’s what’s needed, Martin said.

“If it were up to me, I’d be testing every employee at the hospital, every employee of the ambulance service, every five days,” he said. “I would mandate a test every 10 days for people who work at the senior residences and assisted-living facilities and nursing homes, because those populations are so vulnerable. If an employee tests positive, get them out of there.”

He would prioritize police officers and firefighters, the mayor said.

“I would test every one of them every 10 days,” he said. “But we don’t have the test to do it.”

A test that produces quick results would certainly help maintain staffing levels at the Stamford Fire Department, Chief Trevor Roach said. Firefighters who have symptoms or reason to believe they came in contact with someone with COVID-19 are off the job. As of Thursday morning, 16 were in quarantine, Roach said.

“We get tested quickly enough but we have to wait about a week to get results,” he said. “If we had an instant test, that would certainly change our isolation protocol.”

Testing and waiting for results messes with schedules, Acting Police Chief Thomas Wuennemann said.

“If the test goes to a commercial lab, the results take seven to 10 days, though we have one officer who’s been waiting 13 days,” Wuennemann said. “We had an officer who was admitted to a hospital in another town and got the results in two hours. I think that’s because tests done at hospitals go to a state lab.”

Time on the job can be affected by spouses, too, Wuennemann said.

“We have a number of officers who are married to nurses who work in hospitals,” he said. “If the spouse gets sick, the officer is not allowed back to work until those test results come back.”

Because it can be spread by people who have no symptoms, and no idea that they are infected, coronavirus demands testing, Martin said.

“How can you stop it if you don’t know who has it?” he said. “People in this country are going to die because we don’t have testing for caregivers and front-line workers.”

That’s why he worked to set up testing sites — one at Westhill High School operated by the city health department and Stamford Hospital; one in Cummings Park run by Murphy Medical Associates; and one at 2001 West Main St. operated by DOCS Urgent Care. Stamford Hospital runs one at its Bennett Medical Center building off West Broad Street.

The sites are operating with the limited number of tests available, Martin said. He’s waiting and watching for more and new tests to arrive.

“I hear things about things that are coming but I discount them as speculative,” he said. “Lots of people have made lots of promises but they can’t deliver.”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.