A little box full of science and health – an Abbott Covid-19 rapid tester — arrived at Wallowa Memorial Hospital Wednesday, May 6. And a new $166,000 grant to support COVID-19 testing will also help Winding Waters Clinic ensure that patients get the diagnoses they need.

Wallowa County’s greatly improved COVID-19 testing capacity is here thanks to the persistence of Wallowa County Commissioner John Hillock and hospital administrator Larry Davy.

The Abbott COVID-19 tester came with 168 test kits. It can produce a test result in 15 minutes rather than the weeklong wait typical in March and April when tests had to be sent to a state lab.

Hospital staff are now receiving training in its use, said WMH laboratory director Stefanie Davidson.

“We’ve done some quality controls on it to make sure that it’s working properly. We’re also in the middle of validating it, making sure the tests it processes have the correct result, using the standard samples that came with it,” she said, “making sure that it gives us the correct result when we are actually testing patients.”

Hospital staff will be trained in specific procedures for collecting materials for testing on Tuesday of this week.

The Abbott machine has been reported to give about 15% false negative tests. To be sure that the tests are accurate, Davidson said, individuals showing positive results will be retested using the more rigorous tests provided by InterPath or the state lab. And if individuals test negative, but their physician recommends a more rigorous test, those will also be done through the standard labs.

“A negative test just means that the amount of COVID-19 present is below the threshold of detection,” Davidson said.

“The good news is that now the lab test results are coming back in 48 hours rather than the week that it took before,” Davidson said.

There is no charge for the tests, she said.

“The governor said that we should be receiving regular shipments of more test kits,” hospital spokeswoman Brooke Pace said. “The test materials come to us from the state without cost, and so the tests that we administer will be free.”

But not everyone who might want a test can get one.

“For now, because we have a limited supply of testing materials, we are limiting those tests to a high risk priority. Procedures that would be happening in the hospital, especially patients who need to be intubated,” Davidson said. “Knowing those results quicker, especially for families, has a big plus.”

“Limiting the number of tests until we are sure the state will be replenishing testing kit supplies on a regular basis is also a reason for limiting tests now,” Pace emphasized.

To help the community increase access to testing, Winding Waters Community Health Center received a $166,000 federal grant under the CARES act.

“It’s a pretty open grant that supports anything we need to do to improve community access to testing,” said CEO Nic Powers.

That may include additional equipment—such as a portable ultrasound machine that can help diagnose pneumonia-like or COVID symptoms in the lungs, tablets or laptops to help those sheltering at home stay in touch with their medical providers and perhaps help fund more home visits by Winding Waters staff.

“We absolutely are working in concert with the hospital to increase people’s access to tests,” Powers said. “We are doing tele-health virtual visits, home visits, and also in-office visits.”

The grant, totalling $9 million for 30 Oregon health care facilities, were made available through Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to expand coronavirus testing capacity.

“Expanding testing capacity is an integral step in our fight to treat, and eventually reopen, our communities,” said Merkley.

Other awardees include Tillamook County, Rogue Community Health, Asher Community Health Center in Fossil, and Bandon Community Health Center.

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