PORT ORCHARD — A mobile command drive-through testing center in Bremerton opened Monday to provide Kitsap County residents with a quick and convenient alternative to get tested for the COVID-19 virus should they experience symptoms of the illness, or have been exposed to a confirmed coronavirus case.
The mobile unit is stationed at the parking lot of Pendergast Regional Park, 1199 Union Ave. W., through this spring and is collecting nasal and saliva COVID test samples three days a week from residents who meet at least one of the testing criteria. The unit is serving those with appointments on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The site is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Those meeting the test criteria must make an appointment at the website testdirectly.com/kitsap or by calling 360-728-2235.
Tad Sooter, the spokesman for the Kitsap Public Health District, said those wishing to get tested must make an appointment either online or by phone after meeting one of the following testing criteria:
- Has shown any COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of severity;
- Has been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19;
- Meets other testing criteria posted by Kitsap Public Health District.
County officials said the community testing program is seeking to improve access to testing across the county. Two testing methods — nasal specimen and saliva collection — is being used, and one method will be chosen depending on the severity of an individual’s COVID-like symptoms. Northwest Labs has been approved by Kitsap Public Health District to run the tests.
Residents who earlier were tested with swabs placed high into the nasal cavity will be relieved to know this uncomfortable procedure has been replaced by less invasive methods.
Anne Moen, an emergency response specialist with the health district, said at a test location news conference last week that the saliva test works best for those who have moderate to severe COVID-like symptoms. Those who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms will be tested using the nasal collection method. In both cases, she said, the tests will be self-administered by patients after they are given instructions and the testing materials.
Moen estimates the mobile center’s nine to 10 volunteers will process 16 tests each hour, or about four tests every 15 minutes.
Lis Klute, Kitsap County’s director of emergency disaster management, said health district officials toured community-based testing sites in Whatcom and Snohomish counties to learn how to better educate the volunteers comprising the testing team in Bremerton.
“We’ll have this in operation as long as it’s needed,” Klute said. “We’ve gotten incredible volunteers from the county medical reserve corps, the Bainbridge medical reserve corps and Empact Northwest. They will be supporting several of these [mobile centers] across the county.”
“They will drive in and our medical observers and staff will scan their [registration] codes and then ask them about their symptoms,” Moen said. “They will then decide what test is best for the individual patient. They will be given the test and instructed to go back to their car and have the patient self-swab or salivate into the tube.”
The specimens will be collected and sent by courier or FedEx to Northwest Labs, where they will be read by lab analysts. The results will then be shared with patients through their preferred contact method.
“We want to make this as simple as possible for patients,” Moen said.
Klute said the primary medical support for future collection sites will come from Olympic College’s nursing program and its students.
“It’s a great opportunity for them and will offer the students hands-on clinical experience,” she said.
The testing is available at no cost to patients, Sooter said. If an individual has health insurance, their policy will be billed for the cost of the test. If the patient doesn’t have insurance, the test cost can be covered by a federal program. Otherwise, the individual can self-pay the cost of $125 per test.
The drive-through test program was created and is operated by the Kitsap County Emergency Operations Center and Kitsap Public Health District. It is funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a federal funding legislative effort allocated by Kitsap County.
The federal government provided Kitsap County with $20.3 million through the CARES Act, which is primarily being used to cover costs of the public health response.
Sooter said the health district expects to have a network of sites available across Kitsap County and is working with community partners to select sites and organize staffing for the testing efforts. He said details will be announced at a later date.
“Testing in Kitsap County has largely been provided by health care providers, doctors’ offices, clinics and, more recently, pharmacies,” he said. “This is an option that builds on that and creates a low-barrier option for residents.”
The health district spokesman said reports of rising COVID-19 case statistics regionally and nationally didn’t necessarily spur the addition of the mobile site.
“It’s based not so much on COVID projections but more so on the ongoing needs of our community to respond to this pandemic,” he added.