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Mass COVID-19 testing sites coming to Spokane County next month

Lauren Emery, a CMA with CHAS Health, performs a COVID-19 test in early December on Lonnie Adams, who said he was not feeling well. The CHAS Health testing site at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena closed in June, but officials are planning to bring back mass testing in the city.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County will soon have more COVID-19 testing, although the details are still being worked out about when and where it will be available.

The state Department of Health is in contract discussions with Discovery Health MD, a Seattle-based organization already running COVID testing sites in Western Washington, to operate mass testing sites here .

The mass testing site at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena closed in June as demand waned before a surge in cases from the delta variant.

The Department of Health is going to fund the new testing sites, while the Spokane Regional Health District will lead the planning locally.

Discovery Health MD will bring in some staff to help run the sites, but the organization is looking to hire locally to help support the testing sites as well.

The sites will likely not open until October, Daniel Pulse, chief growth officer at Discovery Health MD, told The Spokesman-Review.

Pulse said that while the organization has access to staffing agencies, it would rather hire locally for the COVID-19 testing sites.

The sites will be in drive-thru format, at least to begin with. Pulse said the community testing sites will be for people who need testing due to exposure or symptoms, not for those wanting to travel or attend events.

“It’s meant for people who are symptomatic or have had a close contact,” Pulse said. “We won’t turn anybody away, but it’s not meant for people who want to go on their trip.”

Current community testing resources are limited to health care providers testing their patients, urgent care clinics and pharmacies. As case rates have increased, the need for testing in the county has increased dramatically.

Pulse, who did site visits in Spokane this week, said he was checking to see what testing resources were in the community to gauge where the Discovery Health MD sites could or should go.

“We could have put up a site anywhere because there’s nothing,” Pulse said, noting the limited availability of testing in the community.

CHAS, which spearheaded community testing efforts earlier in the pandemic, had to scale back recently due to staffing challenges and the demand for care in its own clinics. CHAS is offering mail-in testing kits.

The new testing sites will offer lab-based testing that can turn around results in 24 to 48 hours, Pulse said.

Those who need testing will need to bring proof of insurance and identification, but the state will cover the costs of testing for those without insurance, he said.

Discovery Health MD’s other testing sites are typically open four days a week for about eight hours each day.

How long the sites will be open will likely depend on demand and contract discussions with the Department of Health.

Pulse said the sites could be open through the holiday season.

Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College are being considered to host the drive-thru testing sites.

“We consider it part of our mission as community partners,” Spokane Community College President Kevin Brockbank said. “And understanding there is a resource issue in the health care system, if this is a part of the solution, we’re super happy to do it.”

Brockbank said the health district reached out about using space on both campuses for the testing sites.

The county COVID-19 case rate has declined slightly in the past week, but is still quite high compared with previous waves.

There are 873 cases per 100,000 Spokane County residents in the most recent two weeks for which data is available.

Earlier this year, thresholds were set around this rate for reopening.

A large county could not move past Phase 1 of reopening earlier this year without having a case rate lower than 350 cases per 100,000 residents in the most recent two weeks.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 293 new COVID-19 cases and 11 new deaths on Tuesday.

There have been 825 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 220 people hospitalized for the virus in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 251 new COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths.

There are 118 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

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.