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Jan. 20, 2021

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No-barrier COVID-19 testing begins Tuesday at Vancouver site

Clark County, Vancouver agencies partner for testing at Tower Mall

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
2 Photos
Allison Berhow of Northwest Staffing, left, collects a sample COVID-19 test from Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle as Jenny Wilson of Vancouver's Parks and Recreation Department looks on during a practice run of the new COVID-19 testing site at Tower Mall on Monday afternoon. Officials said all sample tests collected on Jan. 11 would be safely discarded and not processed for results.
Allison Berhow of Northwest Staffing, left, collects a sample COVID-19 test from Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle as Jenny Wilson of Vancouver's Parks and Recreation Department looks on during a practice run of the new COVID-19 testing site at Tower Mall on Monday afternoon. Officials said all sample tests collected on Jan. 11 would be safely discarded and not processed for results. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A free COVID-19 testing site will open this week at the former Tower Mall in Vancouver, offering a no-cost option for people without insurance.

The partnership between Clark County Public Health, Vancouver Parks and Recreation and Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency was announced in a joint press conference Monday morning. The press conference was followed by an on-site demonstration at the testing location a few hours later.

“If you look at cities around the state in terms of testing, we’re below the average,” said Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick. “Any tool we can add would be really helpful.”

Late last week, case counts in Clark County began to rise again after a few weeks of decline. As of Jan. 8, the county had 86 patients hospitalized with the virus, the highest since the pandemic began in March. To date, 14,876 people in Clark County have been diagnosed, and 154 have died.

“We’re just getting into the post-New Years period here, and as with other holidays I’m worried about the amount of transmission in the community,” Melnick said. Despite the first vaccines administered to Clark County’s frontline health workers last month, he added, “we still have a ways to go with this pandemic.”

COVID-19 tests will be available to “anyone who’s interested, regardless of their residency, regardless of their insurance status, regardless of their immigration status,” said Dave Perlick, recreation manager for Vancouver Parks and Recreation.

He spoke from the parking lot of the former Tower Mall site, during a test run for the program before it opens to the general public Tuesday. The run-through included tests for city and Public Health staff, as well as Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle.

A grant from the Washington State Department of Health paid to launch the testing site, and the department will continue to provide funds for the as-yet undetermined duration of the program, Perlick said.

“Other areas in our region have these kinds of testing sites, and it’s a good way to provide a lot of access in a free program where anybody can get tested if they’re interested,” Perlick said.

The testing site, 5403 E. Mill Plain Blvd., will open 9 a.m. Tuesday and is expected to operate 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday for the next several months.

At full operation, it will have the capacity to test 1,000 to 1,500 people per day.

Visitors will self-administer their own oral saliva PCR test with a swab kit, under the guidance from a testing site staff manager. The test is not uncomfortable or invasive, and people getting tested will receive results within 48 hours via text message or email depending on preference.

People are encouraged to register online ahead of their test, and to bring a photo identification to their appointment. However, neither step is required, said Melody Burton, communications manager for the Vancouver Parks and Recreation Department.

To staff the site, the Parks and Recreation Department rehired 14 staff formerly laid off when the Firstenburg Community Center and Marshall Community Center shuttered earlier in the pandemic. Additional temporary staff were hired through NW Staffing Resources, a local temp agency, bringing the total team up to 23 people.

“It doesn’t really require medical training,” Melnick explained at the press conference. “(They) basically provide directions to the person that’s going to self administer it.”

Testing at the site is recommended for people ages 4 and older who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus.

To pre-register for testing and sign up for an arrival time, visit www.ClarkCountyCOVIDTesting.org (on-site registration will also be available). Visitors should expect the testing process to take between 20 and 40 minutes.

Drive-in and walk-up options are available. Face coverings are required for everyone — those in their cars will need to wear masks, and roll down their windows just enough to pass the test back and forth. Those utilizing the walk-up option should follow the posted signs to ensure safe social distancing.

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