Arrow-right Camera

Color Scheme

Subscribe now


Rapid testing site opens, local hospitals still have capacity to treat COVID-19, emergent health needs

By Jared Brown and Arielle Dreher The Spokesman-Review

Providence Health Care’s new rapid COVID-19 testing site in North Spokane saw its second day of operation Friday, providing results to the community’s most at-risk members within minutes as daily transmissions countywide continue to drop.

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed five new cases of the disease Friday for a total of 298. The death toll remained at 17, and 16 people were in the hospital Friday.

Local daily case counts have not increased by double digits since Sunday.

Providence’s rapid test from Abbott, which was approved through emergency authorization, works with the same technology providers use for influenza and streptococcus tests. It provides a positive result in as few as 5 minutes and negative results in about 13.

“Even if the test is positive, you feel less anxious because you know the answer,” said Pam Lancaster, the lead physician’s assistant at the testing site.

Rapid testing could send health care workers and first responders back to work sooner.

The test also is less invasive. Rather than sampling from patients’ throats through their nose, the rapid test only requires swabbing the inside of each nostril.

People who are in a high-risk category – those with underlying conditions, the elderly, health care workers and first responders – can schedule a virtual visit with Providence, regardless of their health care provider.

From there, a provider can refer someone with symptoms for rapid testing at the Providence Express Care Indian Trail clinic, the only site east of the Cascades.

“There’s such a limited supply, so that’s why we can’t test everybody yet,” said Brenda Clark, the Indian Trails clinic manager.

The site is expected to receive supplies from Abbott to test about 50 people a day. As of early Friday afternoon, fewer than 10 had been tested.

Providence also informs the health district of the results, which do not have to be confirmed in a lab beforehand, according to Lancaster. Accuracy data isn’t available for the test, but it has passed quality control inspections.

The test and virtual visit should be covered by most insurers, but the prices for those without insurance are $60 and $49, respectively.

People who can’t afford the cost can still be screened for free at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center, which has seen steadily decreasing traffic.

About 3,400 people have been screened at the fairgrounds since the site opened March 20, with a planned capacity of more than 500 people per day. Of those who were screened, health care providers decided more than 1,400 should be tested.

This week, traffic at the site decreased each day from 109 screenings Monday to about 40 Friday.

“We believe people are heeding the advice to stay home and monitor their symptoms unless they are sick with multiple symptoms and fall into a high-risk category,” Julie Humphreys, a city public safety spokesperson, said in an email.

Humphreys said officials attribute the decline in traffic to social distancing efforts and fewer disease transmissions.

“It’s also likely that people have accepted this ‘new normal’ health situation, and while they have a healthy fear of getting sick, they are not panicking,” Humphreys said.

Local hospitals still have the capacity to take care of patients with COVID-19 as well as those needing other emergent care. Hospital administrators said that their personal protective equipment supplies are limited but adequate for now, and universal masking is enforced with staff at MultiCare and Providence hospitals.

Administrators asked the community continue to be diligent in social distancing efforts, noting that it has appeared to work to reduce the spread of the virus in the community.

“We have to remember that the vast majority of our community has no immunity to this virus,” David O’Brien, chief executive with MultiCare in the Inland Northwest, told reporters Friday.

Spokane has seen significantly fewer cases than other urban areas in Eastern Washington.

“We’re not at the finish line yet, and the hard work you’re doing pairs with the hard work we’re doing in the hospital and health care settings,” said Dan Getz, chief medical officer at Providence.

Both administrators said they are not seeing a surge in health care workers testing positive for the virus, similar to the decreasing rate of new cases reported in the county in recent days.

MultiCare and Providence health systems are enrolled in clinical trials for remdesivir, the anti-viral but not federally approved drug that can be used to treat patients with COVID-19.

When asked which treatments are working, Getz said it was difficult to answer, since the data from other remdesivir trials are “a bit muddy.”

“The best treatment is good supportive care, treating dehydration and respiratory support or (sometimes) kidney function. That tends to be the best care,” he said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.