Low-barrier Covid-19 test site too expensive to continue

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The Whatcom County Health Department and Whatcom Unified Command (WUC) will no longer offer free, low-barrier Covid-19 testing at Civic Field Stadium as the resources necessary were unsustainable to maintain. 

The pilot project, which tested about 1,800 people in four days of drive-through and walk-up testing, cost approximately $126,000 and depended on over 50 volunteers each day, according to a press release from the health department. 

Scott McCreery, WUC incident commander, said the project revealed they are unable to maintain the staff, volunteer and financial commitment required to continue testing at this scale two days a week.

“From Whatcom Unified Command’s perspective, this pilot was successful but unsustainable,” he said. “This is not a sustainable means of being able to provide testing within our community.” 

Nineteen individuals tested positive for Covid-19 with 1,814 individuals tested over the four days. This means just over 1 percent of individuals tested positive, meeting the state’s goal of 2 percent or less.

The cost to the county was about $69 per individual test and $6,612 per positive test, totaling $125,166. 

The health department recommends those who need testing to contact their healthcare provider or one of the testing resources listed on its website. The department is also exploring alternative approaches with its partners at Northwest Labs to provide a more efficient low-barrier testing process for the community. 

Health department director Erika Lautenbach said the department will reinstate its testing team with clinical partners and develop a triage line for individuals to call to be referred to either their primary care provider, testing with Northwest Labs or internal testing with the department 

The department is also working on implementing a system called “Test Directly” that will allow individuals to register for tests in advance and access their results within minutes of the test results being finalized from their own devices. The system is currently being piloted by Northwest Labs in Snohomish County and will be implemented this week once all the glitches are worked through, she said. 

More information about testing can be found here: whatcomcounty.us/3388/covid-19-testing.

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