July 1, 2020 — Lane County Public Health (LCPH) will be offering free COVID-19 tests for Florence area residents Wednesday, the final part of three rounds of testing that began in Mapleton on Saturday morning, followed by testing reserved for people in the Latinx community later that afternoon.
In total, 91 people were tested this weekend, resulting in one positive test.
Seventy-two people showed up for testing at Mapleton, while only 19 showed up for the Latinx testing.
“Mapleton exceeded our expectations, but we hoped the Latinx testing would have better turnout,” said Jason Davis, Lane County’s Health and Human Services public information officer.
However, those who missed testing can come again Wednesday, when LCPH will be doing testing between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Florence Food Share, 2190 Spruce St.
“Our capacity per day is around 300 [tests] and we would ideally like to achieve that,” Davis said. “It can be challenging for folks who live in rural areas to access testing. We hope that by bringing the testing to them, we remove some of the barriers.”
Lane County’s testing in the Siuslaw Region comes as Oregon as a whole has seen increasing numbers of COVID-19 in recent weeks. Multiple measures have been taken recently, including a statewide requirement that all residents 12 and older wear masks in public, effective July 1.
LCPH’s program helps to gain a larger understanding of the virus in the region. One of the keys to this is offering tests for free to all residents, regardless of age or whether or not they have symptoms.
“The testing is currently being funded by LCPH, but we hope to be reimbursed by FEMA,” Davis said about the funding for tests.
Although the tests are free, LCPH is asking people to bring insurance cards if they have them to help with funding the program.
“Since most insurance companies, including Oregon Health Plan, are covering COVID tests, the insurance piece helps us offset costs as reimbursement is rarely complete,” Davis said.
LCPH offers both nasal and throat swabs for testing. While there will be wait times, the test itself only takes a matter of minutes. After providing basic information such as name, address and phone number, participants are asked a short series of questions regarding their current state of health. After a swab is taken, participants are told that they will be notified by LCPH within 48 hours as to whether or not they test positive.
“No news is good news,” LCPH employees told participants in Mapleton, who came from various parts of the Siuslaw region including Deadwood, Mapleton and Florence.
“I’m interested in knowing,” local resident Kirk Mlinek said as he was waiting in line. “I think it’s important to know and I’m looking to add to the national database so that the statistics are correct and the right decisions can be made down the road.”
Mlinek stated that he was in Washington State at the end of February for a music festival, but came down with eight COVID symptoms on the last two days of his trip.
“The guy I went with got sick and was diagnosed with the flu,” Mlinek said.
But during the early days of the pandemic, upriver communities became fearful that the disease was already rapidly spreading.
“There’s also a rumor in this area where the disease may have passed through here in November, December, January and even in February,” said resident Bill Grable, who also attended the Mapleton testing. “People were getting ill and having some of the issues, but not all of them.”
Grable himself got sick during that period, but it passed.
“I had a hunch that I might already test positive,” he said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, testing in Oregon was limited so it was difficult to see a true picture of where the region, let along Lane County, stood with the virus.
The current round of LCPH testing won’t solve the question of the virus’ spread in January, as the agency is only testing for the live virus; this is not an antibody test, and will not tell if someone has recovered from the virus.
Still, Davis said that the current testing will help LCPH gain information to help prevent future spread.
“This testing is called reservoir testing,” he said. “It aims to identify if there are ‘reservoirs’ of undetected COVID in our rural areas. This helps us understand how COVID is moving through Lane County and where the next cluster might be.”
He called it prevention at its finest.
“The earlier someone knows they have COVID, the sooner they can isolate and avoid spreading it,” Davis said.
Those who do test positive will be asked to go into quarantine, and contact tracing will be initiated to determine if anyone else may have contracted the virus.
Prevention is what Chris Carson and his family wanted as they stood in line at Mapleton.
“It clears the conscience,” he said. “I don’t want to pass it on to anyone else. It’s conscientious for myself and my family, that if any one of us was sick, we would know to stay home even more.”
Neither Carson’s family, nor the majority of those taking the tests, currently had symptoms.
“I feel fine,” Marty Albright said as she waited in line. “No symptoms, but I’ve never tested. And it is a political statement, too.”
Albright stated that she was testing because U.S. President Donald Trump had suggested not to.
“That’s my primary reason, and you may quote me,” she said.
While the politics surrounding COVID-19 are delicate at this point, Davis hopes that people will not avoid testing because of it.
“I would say that our healthy future is dependent on us, as a community, depoliticizing public health,” he said. “Testing is a proven strategy to control the spread of disease. The way in which public health efforts have been used for political gain doesn’t help anyone in the long run. We are not a partisan organization. We serve all community members and we report to all elected officials regardless of political affiliation.”
For LCPH, testing is about the numbers, which Albright agreed with.
“You need these numbers to find out where hotspots are so they can help abate them and treat them. It’s really important for these researchers to have these numbers, in my opinion,” she said. “So here we are.”
Florence COVID-19 testing will be conducted on Wednesday, July 1, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Florence Food Share, 2190 Spruce St.
For more information, visit www.lanecountyor.gov or call LCPH at 541-682-4041.