MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Even as case counts rise, Skagit County is asking people who do not have symptoms of COVID-19 not to get tested, even if they’ve been exposed.
Their test sites are overwhelmed and now there’s fear over how long they will be able to keep them running.
“The faster cases are spiking and the faster cases are transmitting, the more people need testing,” said Laura Han, the Skagit County communications coordinator.
The need for COVID-19 testing in Skagit County has hit an all-time high.
“We’re a very small community. We have a finite number of resources and it’s just, we’re in a really difficult position,” Han said.
County-run testing sites are overwhelmed with three-hour waits, and now, inclement weather.
Heavy winds shut down their site on Friday, so the county shut down their site on Monday and Tuesday as well to move locations from the Skagit Valley College to the Skagit County Fairgrounds.
“We ultimately needed to move to the fairgrounds because there was a physical actual building that we could put test site operations inside,” Han said. “If we are going to continue to provide testing throughout winter, we needed a physical building space that would keep folks dry, keep the wind off and keep volunteers and staff safe.”
The demand is proving too high for testing capacity. County health officials are now asking those without symptoms not to get tested, and instead, just stay home for the 14-day quarantine period.
“We would really like to be able to provide low-barrier testing for everybody who needs it at any time they want it, but with the current rate of disease transmission, we actually really have to put the plea out there that if you’re asymptomatic and haven’t been directed by a public health official to seek testing, that you don’t,” Han explained.
They are pushing people in Skagit County not to rely on the county-run test sites.
“We would suggest reaching out through your primary care provider, reaching out to your local clinic. We are not the only testing providers in Skagit County, a number of folks are doing it. There are a lot of other options,” she said. “You’ve got to know what your own resources are, and you have to take proper precautions in your own life so that we don’t overburden our medical system. It's just kind of the unfortunate reality of where we are right now.”
As they work to accommodate the high demand for testing, the end of November proves a grim landmark for county-run test sites.
“To be perfectly honest, our CARES funding runs out on Nov. 30 and that has been the bulk of the funding used for this test site," said Han.
Without state or federal funding, Skagit County only has enough funds to keep their site open through December.
“What I am talking about is something that really scares all of us. It is not something that we want to have happen and the dedicated team of folks at public health are thinking every day about how we can continue to provide this important service, but it’s the reality we live in. There are only so many revenue resources and tax dollars and we’re not the federal government, to put it quite bluntly, we can’t create funding where there isn’t any,” she said. “We’re incredibly grateful for the CARES Act funding that we’ve gotten. I cannot stress enough the importance of that continued support for our ability to continue operating the testing site.”
As the county asks people to seek other options for tests, Skagit Regional Health, the organization that runs Skagit Valley Hospital and many other medical care provers in Skagit County, says they’ve seen an influx in the need for testing and are working to accommodate that need.
In a statement to KING 5, they said:
"Skagit Regional Health saw a significant increase in requests for COVID-19 tests this week, in part because the Skagit County Public Health testing site temporarily closed for relocation and also due to the influx of cases in the region.
This is a fluid situation that we continue to monitor and will adjust operations as necessary to safely meet demand. Currently, Skagit Regional Health offers COVID-19 testing options for patients with symptoms and patients without symptoms, at locations in Mount Vernon and Arlington/Smokey Point.
We appreciate the great work by Skagit County as the primary source of COVID-19 tests at the county’s drive-through testing site and we look forward to the site’s reopening at the Skagit County Fairgrounds later this week as we continue to partner together to meet the testing needs of our communities.”