COVID-19 testing

Chuck Schaap braces for a COVID-19 nasal swab test, administered by Emerg-A-Care medical assistant Brad Nagel, at a late May community testing event in Jackson. Though St. John’s Health has taken over Emerg-A-Care and centralized testing operations at its new testing center, options for on-demand testing remain available.

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No matter your reason for wanting a coronavirus test, you can pretty easily get your hands on one.

Early in the pandemic, tests were scarce, and St. John’s Health, guided by state and federal officials, rationed its resources. Since then most supply chains have caught up, but you still can’t just walk in and get a rapid test.

“I think the struggle we’ve had in the community right now is there are a lot of testing options out there, but there’s just not a lot of rapid tests,” said Chad Rothermel, project manager at St. John’s.

People seeking coronavirus tests fall into three main categories: asymptomatic people, close contacts of confirmed cases and symptomatic patients. The first group might be people who are traveling to see elderly relatives or who think they were exposed to the virus even though they were not identified as a close contact.

For those folks testing is pretty straightforward, Rothermel said. They have a couple cash-pay options through St. John’s, a PCR test that costs $170 and a respiratory panel, which is more expensive.

St. John’s is running all its testing at its new testing center in the Kmart plaza. That centralizes its efforts but eliminates the option for a test at the clinic formerly known as Emerg-A-Care. Asymptomatic people can arrange to have a test there, no questions asked, and receive their answers in a few days.

“Anyone can pay cash for those and get a test, and we’re not going to ask you why you want it,” Rothermel said. “We’ll just give it to you.”

Dr. Heidi Jost, who works at Teton Orthopedics, also provides on-demand testing for asymptomatic people, her office confirmed Monday.

People who were close contacts of a confirmed case can also go to the St. John’s testing center, but the hospital encourages them to go through the Curative system. When someone is a close contact they receive a link either from contact tracers at the health department or the infectious person themselves.

Following that link allows them to access the Curative test, a cheek swab screening offered for free through federal CARES Act relief funds and also done at the testing center.

People showing symptoms are asked not to come in. St. John’s wants them to follow the testing guidelines laid out early in the pandemic, which involves calling for a telehealth visit, when a doctor can order a coronavirus test, if needed.

Another option exists for pretty much everyone in Wyoming, on-demand testing through Vault Health (a spit-in-a-test-tube PCR test). With those a telehealth visit with Vault walks individuals through the test process, the individuals mail out their saliva samples, and they receive results in a few days.

CARES Act money through the state government pays for those, and anyone with a Wyoming address can have them shipped. Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said in an email that people can receive more than one test if they use theirs and have a subsequent exposure. At least through Dec. 31, when the CARES Act money is supposed to be spent, the tests are free.

The state health department is also sponsoring those tests for larger organizations like Teton County School District No. 1, which is receiving hundreds of Vault tests. Communications Director Charlotte Reynolds said the district is using them as quasi-surveillance testing, sending home kids who feel sick with a test and asking them to send the sample in.

Kelly resident Melanie Harrice, who has been tested several times because of travel or exposure, said more rapid tests need to be available.

“No one who’s potentially asymptomatic or ill should have to wait for a state-sponsored test to be mailed out. That’s the height of irresponsibility,” she wrote in an email to the News&Guide.

For now, however, that supply of rapid tests doesn’t exist, Rothermel said. St. John’s has been working on procuring more rapid testing supplies, but to no avail. Even the tests that take a few days to return results are a vast improvement over the beginning of the pandemic, when it could take up two weeks to find out if you had the virus.

Until more rapid tests are available, the Vault tests remain the best option for someone to initiate the testing process whenever they want.

“What we’ve encouraged a lot of people to do is to just go ahead and order them,” he said. “You can have them sitting at your house, and you can take it two weeks later when you actually, you know, start to develop a cough or something.”

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.

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