Clark County pursuing no-barrier COVID-19 testing

The free clinics would likely be provided by Medical Teams International

VANCOUVER — People living in Clark County who’d like to get tested for COVID-19 but lack insurance or a doctor to recommend them may soon have an option.

At a Board of Public Health meeting on Tuesday, Clark County Public Health Officer and Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick announced that they were nearing a contract to provide no-barrier testing.

Medical Teams International volunteers Janet and Kul Jaswal swab young Julian for COVID-19 at a drive-up clinic. Photo courtesy Medical Teams International
Medical Teams International volunteers Janet and Kul Jaswal swab young Julian for COVID-19 at a drive-up clinic. Photo courtesy Medical Teams International

“We’re going to be standing up a testing location, drive up as well as walk up,” Melnick told the Board. “It’ll be at Tower Mall. Our target date is January 4.”

The announcement came two weeks after the last Board of Public Health meeting, during which racial inequality was deemed a public health crisis.

During that meeting, Melnick faced questions about whether they would soon be able to provide testing to people who lack insurance, or a source of income to pay for office visits, since minority populations tend to be more impacted by the virus and also less likely to seek testing on their own.

“We haven’t put the money into testing, because it would really drain the resources away from doing the case investigations,” Melnick said at that meeting.

Since then, Clark County Public Health received more resources via a direct disbursement of CARES Act funding from the state Department of Health. That money opened the door to begin talks with a nonprofit to conduct the testing.

Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick. File photo
Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick. File photo

While nothing has been announced, Melnick said it would likely be a similar program to the one in Cowlitz County, where he is also the public health director. That testing program is run by the nonprofit Medical Teams International, through funding from the state.

“It happened pretty quickly in Cowlitz County,” Melnick said at the Dec. 2 meeting. “So I’m hoping it will happen here as well.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Melnick said the free testing clinic at the Tower Mall site would be in partnership with the city of Vancouver, and likely run several days a week for at least three weeks.

For those worried about the images of painful COVID-19 testing done with a cotton swab deep in the nasal passages, Melnick has some good news.

“It’s going to be a non painful test,” he said.

Medical Teams International uses a test that allows the person being tested to swab their own mouth, deposit the swab in a sterile baggie, and then return it. Results are usually available in 3-5 days.

“It’ll be a PCR test, so an accurate test,” says Melnick, adding that they should be able to do between 500 and 1,500 tests per day.

The Tower Mall site along Mill Plain was chosen because the city of Vancouver owns most of it, and it’s in a relatively central location with easy access by bus.

Further details were expected to be released, along with a testing schedule, within the coming weeks.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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