Low-barrier Covid-19 tests available weekly in Birch Bay

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Whatcom County’s low-barrier Covid-19 mobile testing program expanded this week to include a site at Birch Bay Bible Community Church, as well as five other new locations throughout the county.

For the first day of the program at Birch Bay Bible Community Church, at 4660 Bay Road, the county health department and Whatcom Unified Command (WUC) performed tests between 9 a.m. and noon. The program offers free testing and doesn’t require insurance or a physician’s referral. Tests are available by appointment only and can be scheduled online at TestDirectly.com/whatcom.

As of this week, the mobile testing program will have a stop inside the border of every school district in the county. Visit whatcomcounty.us/covidtesting for a list of test sites and times. The health department is running the program with WUC and volunteers.

Future test dates in Birch Bay are not yet scheduled, but health department officials said the program would continue with a similar schedule to the first week, meaning that testing in Birch Bay will likely continue every Tuesday. Test dates and registration will open weekly on Saturdays at testdirectly.com, health department director Erika Lautenbach said in an August 25 media briefing.

“We are refining times and locations. There will be some tweaks – we may move a site from the morning to the afternoon – but we are continuing this program,” she said. “This is a long-term program.”

Those with insurance must provide insurance information for billing purposes when scheduling an appointment. The program is designed for drive-through testing, but it can accommodate people who don’t have a vehicle. To be tested without a car, call 370/778-6075. To schedule a test in a language other than English, call 360/778-6075.

As of August 23, 1,057 people in Whatcom County have tested positive for Covid-19 and 39 have died from the virus, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Three people in the county have been hospitalized with the disease this month, according to the state data, although the state’s dashboard didn’t yet have complete data past August 17 at press time.

As of August 23, Whatcom County’s rate of new cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks was 33.3. That number declined in recent weeks and is the lowest of any large or medium-sized county in the state, Lautenbach said.

It’s also close to the state’s goal of 25 new cases per 100,000 per two-week period, which, before governor Jay Inslee paused reopening indefinitely on July 28, was a metric for counties to be able to apply for a higher phase with fewer restrictions.

When Inslee announced that counties could no longer move to higher phases in the state’s Safe Start Washington plan, case counts were increasing statewide. The rate of new cases has declined statewide through August, but the state hasn’t yet revisited its decision to pause reopening.

Lautenbach said on August 25 that she had a call scheduled with the state to talk about the county’s low case rate and whether restrictions could soon be relaxed.

“It’s really a statewide decision,” she said. “I don’t see this changing at the moment but we are in conversations with the state about that.”

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