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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 10, 2020
CONTACT: Heather Thomas, firstname.lastname@example.org
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. – On March 23, the Snohomish Health District opened a drive-thru testing site in the parking lot near Everett Memorial Stadium. During its three weeks of operations, the site successfully tested more than 2,100 individuals. Of those, 1,355 test results have been completed and 59 were positive.
The testing supplies and laboratory services were made possible by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
This community-based model was intended for short-term surge support, and FEMA recently announced plans to transition sites like these around the country to state and local control. Here locally, that transition is effective at the close of business today.
While there are disadvantages to losing federal support for this program, there are also advantages and adjustments that the Health District is leveraging moving forward.
With the transition to state and local control, results will no longer need to be overnighted to out-of-state labs for processing. The Health District will now be able to send specimens to the State Public Health Lab in Shoreline.
In addition, the Health District will take on the responsibility for notification and documentation of test results. This eliminates the need for a third-party call center and coordination with an external laboratory that provided records for individuals being tested at the community-based test sites around the country. Beginning on April 13, those tested by the Health District will now be contacted through text message or a phone call by Health District staff.
Moving forward, the Health District now has more flexibility in how and where available tests can be used. This includes the ability to target tests and resources to high-need areas.
Next week, staff will deploy teams to begin testing staff and patients at high-risk long term care facilities in Snohomish County. These are facilities where at least one patient or staff member has tested positive. The number of facilities that the Health District will be able to reach will be dependent on the continued availability of testing supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Test kits will continue to be made available to law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs in the County. The Health District it also looking at opportunities to partner with Snohomish County to deploy test kits during outreach to residents experiencing homelessness. Again, these will all be with the benefit of quicker laboratory turnarounds and notification timelines.
The Health District is eliminating all eligibility criteria previously in place for testing, except the requirement that individuals have symptoms. People who do not have symptoms will not be eligible for testing appointments. Those symptoms include a cough, fever of at least 100.4, sore throat and/or shortness of breath.
Testing will still be by appointment only. However, due to limited testing supplies and unknown shipment schedules, drive-thru testing appointments will be reduced.
For the week of April 13, testing appointments will only be available on Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 3900 Broadway in Everett. Appointment slots for Tuesday will open tomorrow (April 11), with appointments for Thursday opening on Monday, April 13.
After April 16, the testing site location at 3900 Broadway in Everett will be demobilized. The Health District will evaluate available supplies on a weekly basis to determine if additional 1- or 2-day drive-thru testing sites could be opened in other locations around Snohomish County. Announcements will be made on Friday afternoons for any drive-thru testing sites to be available the following week.
These drive-thru testing options are not meant to replace or eliminate other testing avenues offered by many local healthcare providers. The goal is to supplement those options in order to ease some of the pressure on the existing system. People still should contact their medical provider for guidance and assessment if they have symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat and/or shortness of breath. For medical emergencies, they should call 911 and notify the dispatch personnel that you may have COVID-19.
More information and updates will be made available at www.snohd.org/drive-thru-testing.
It’s important to remember that testing capability for this virus has been around for less than three months. It takes time to develop the assays that can be shared broadly, develop and produce the testing supplies, and have enough lab capacity to run the tests.
From that perspective, it is quite remarkable how quickly science and technology have come together to get us to where we are today. There are now private sector firms developing more robust testing capabilities, like rapid testing, and the Health District is exploring options to leverage those in the near future.
That being said, the Health District understands and shares the frustrations by residents and healthcare partners on early restrictions and current backlogs in testing supplies. This is further complicated by the shortage of PPE in the community; PPE needed to administer these tests.
Things are improving though. The drive-thru testing site provided a much needed relief valve in Snohomish County. In fact, the number of people that were registering and being tested had been decreasing in recent days, which the Health District takes as a good sign.
There are still people who want to be tested who do not meet the criteria for the drive-thru testing site. Individuals are encouraged to talk to their medical provider to see if they should be tested.
It’s important to remember that, for otherwise healthy people who are not high-risk or working in an essential business or service, the advice they would be given whether they tested positive or negative for COVID-19 would be the same: if you have any symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat), you should stay home until 72 hours after symptoms resolve or 7 days after symptom onset, whichever is longer.
And while the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order is in place, even healthy individuals should be home except for essential work or errands.
The Snohomish Health District updates case counts online at 2:00 p.m. everyday.
The health and safety of Snohomish County remains the Health District’s top priority. The community is encouraged to help prevent the spread of illness and to support the response to this outbreak by staying informed and sharing reliable information. This is a very fluid situation and information will be updated at www.snohd.org/ncov2019 and the Health District’s social media channels.