Coronavirus testing

Britt Krull, a registered nurse at St. John’s Health, collects a sample from a patient for a COVID-19 test at medical tent outside the hospital on May 8.

If you want a coronavirus test, you can have one. For real.

The Teton County Health Department is holding a community testing event from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the county fairgrounds in conjunction with Emerg-A-Care and Jackson Hole Fire/EMS.

The department will be administering nasal swab tests that identify genetic pieces of active disease to tell people if they currently have the virus, rather than antibody tests that tell people they had it at some point.

Low supplies of crucial testing materials like nasal swabs and transport media have hampered widespread testing throughout much of the coronavirus pandemic. However, private companies across the world have rushed to increase supplies while labs and hospitals have acted to boost their test processing capacities.

Having ample tests is part of public health officials’ reopening plans, Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell told the Board of Health at its April meeting.

“Testing allows us to go on the offensive, to up our ground game to continue to get this under control,” he said.

At the April 28 meeting, Riddell mentioned that officials wanted to do a community testing event because testing numbers had decreased toward the end of April, including a day that saw just two tests countywide. He surmised that people may have been discouraged by how difficult it was to get tested and that they had given up on the idea.

Numbers have since increased, with an average of 44 tests done countywide between May 15 and 21, according to the community COVID-19 dashboard. However, officials still want to get a better sense of who has the disease.

The community testing event will help with that. According to the Health Department, anyone, regardless of symptoms, can be tested. At no time during the outbreak has Wyoming Department of Health guidance said asymptomatic people should be tested, so generally that population has not been tested.

Dr. Brent Blue has offered tests to asymptomatic people at his Emerg-A-Care clinic, but this event will likely give more people the chance to be tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated Friday that 35% of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, so giving people the chance to be tested could give health officials a better picture of the disease’s presence in Teton County.

The event is open to anyone who lives or works in the county. People can enter through the parking lot at the corner of Flat Creek and Snow King.

The Health Department asks that people bring proof of insurance if they have it, so insurance companies can be billed. For those without insurance, the department is offering vouchers to cover the cost of the test.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

(1) comment

Susan Crosser

35% of people with COVID are asymptomatic. They could infect others without knowing. The pandemic started months ago. Are the asymptomatic people still likely to be contagious? Doesn't the infection run its course in the asymptomatic? By testing so late, have we missed the window for determining who was an asymptomatic sufferer? WE were willing to challenge the State Dept of Health on a number of issues, but now we are using them as an excuse for not having tested? Not many people were tested in April, maybe it was because the hospital kept advertising no tests for asymptomatic. Maybe that was the most important window for the testing, and yet people were told "no testing for you". Compared to Fremont County, we sent in very few tests to the State Dept of Health. Did the hospital NOT have sufficient tests on hand to be sent to the State Lab ?i Everyone has been talking about the need for testing (Germany was testing 500,000 per day), and WE decided to follow the WY State Dept of Health guidelines? I did a test in early April. THAT was when we needed to identify the asymptomatic. If we were able to find someone to pay for ventilators that were never used, I'm sure we could have found the money to test for asymptomatic before now. And if we were able to buy ventilators to gather dust while so many areas were in dire need of more ventilators, why couldn't we get the supplies we needed for the tests? $3 million raised for the community relief fund; testing is the key to reopening according to Dr. Riddell, and yet we've ignored that "key" for over two months? Can we get a medical opinion with regard to the test results? Will people who were asymptomatic in March, still have active virus in their systems at the end of May ? And if they don't, haven't we missed the window for the data necessary to reopening?

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