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    COVID-19 testing just got easier in Whatcom County

    County officials introduce drive-thru testing center July 10 and 11.

    By Abi Hoodenpyle

    Photo of drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Civic Athletic Complex. Tents were set up in the parking lot to conduct easily accessible COVID-19 testing. // Photo courtesy of Cooper Lutton.
    Photo of drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Civic Athletic Complex. Tents were set up in the parking lot to conduct easily accessible COVID-19 testing. // Photo courtesy of Cooper Lutton.

    Bellingham residents were able to get tested for COVID-19 this weekend with a new drive-thru testing site at Civic Athletic Complex. 

    Whatcom County Health Department and Whatcom Unified Command partnered with Northwest Laboratory and the City of Bellingham to pilot the COVID-19 testing facility July 10 and July 11. 

    The Whatcom County Health Department and Whatcom Unified Command are assessing the testing process that took place this weekend to create a more permanent drive-thru testing site in the future.

    “Opening an additional, low-barrier, drive-through testing facility in Whatcom County will create new capacity to test individuals for COVID-19,” Health Department Director Erika Lautenbauch said in a press release on July 7. 

    The Whatcom County website announced the test consisted of a nasal swab that collects cells and fluids in the nasal cavity, and then sent to a lab that detects the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19. The pilot center did not test for antibodies, whose presence indicates previous infection. 

    According to the website, the testing facility could test up to 300 people per day. The tests are processed by Northwest Laboratories and people can expect results within 72 hours of test completion. Insurance companies are required to waive co-pays and deductibles for tests. For those without insurance, costs will be covered by the Health Resources and Services Administration Program.

    The pilot phase of testing did not accept appointments, but according to the website they intend to implement scheduling in the future.

    As of July 14, Whatcom County has 725 confirmed COVID-19 cases. There have been 55 new cases since July 5. 

    “We need to have testing available to [everyone] because of the incredible contagiousness of this virus and the serious consequences to those who get it,” said Dr. Courtney Johnson, primary care provider and owner of Trivas Family Medicine in Seattle. 

    Skagit County has had drive-thru COVID-19 testing since the end of April, and has been in close contact with Whatcom County about their experience.

    “Our public health team has been talking and working with the Whatcom County public health team on some of our best practices and what we’ve learned in the testing site and we’ve been really thankful for that partnership and the ability to share our experiences,” said Laura Gelwicks, Communications Coordinator for Skagit County. 

    Gelwicks said many Whatcom County residents have made the commute to Skagit County for their easily accessible testing center. 

    “Somewhere around half of our users are from Skagit County, somewhere around 30% of our users have been from Whatcom County, and the remaining chunk is from other counties in the state, or from out of state,” Gelwicks said.

    Braydon Bippley, a fourth-year Western student and Bellingham resident, said he made the commute to Skagit County for COVID-19 testing.

    “It was clearly [a] well-working machine,” Bippley said. “I 100% would have gone to the Whatcom County one if it were open.”

    Danny Vera, the regional vice president at Skagit Regional Health, which runs Skagit Valley Hospital, notes that Skagit Valley Hospital saw an increase in cases, but fewer hospitalizations when Skagit County increased testing. 

    “Widespread, easily accessible testing is vital to be able to reopen some of our shuttered businesses and activities and continue to keep the transmission of COVID-19 relatively low and manageable,” Gelwicks said. 

    Johnson believes all counties should increase testing to serve all their residents. 

    “More people are getting it [COVID-19], there’s more virus in the environment, and people can spread it when they have no symptoms. That adds up for a worsening and worsening infection rates.” Johnson said. 

    According to the Whatcom County website, the Health Department is actively working on increasing widely accessible COVID-19 testing, and the new facility has taken the county one step closer. 

    Whatcom County is holding an additional drive-thru COVID-19 testing center July 17 and 18 at Civic Athletic Complex from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

    “[The drive-through facility] allows us to test more people,” Gelwicks said. “And that seems like a very simple goal, but testing more people is really critical in the fight against COVID.” 

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