Malheur County plans massive Covid testing event in October

ONTARIO – A massive Covid testing event slated next month will be a big step forward for local health officials as they analyze how far the virus has spread.

The event is set for Wednesday, Oct. 14, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Malheur County Fairgrounds and is designed to test up to 500 people. The testing is open to all, including children from age 7 and up.

 The testing be a joint effort between the county, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said Sara Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

The testing event is part of the state’s response to a surge of Covid cases locally that began in July. Since then, overall cases of the virus have leveled off slightly but the virus is proving resilient.

The key to this testing event, said Poe, is it will also focus on people without symptoms of the virus and will also employ self-swab tests.

“People will be instructed in person on how to do the self-swab,” said Poe.

Poe said the self-swab test is not as painful as a regular Covid test.

“It doesn’t go into your sinuses,” said Poe.

Because the site will test people without active Covid symptoms it will hopefully help the health department isolate more active cases of the infection and slash the spread of the virus by people who are asymptomatic – or do not know they have the virus, said Poe.

“A big testing event will potentially give us more cases but, in the long run, it will reduce the number of cases because right now, so many cases are spreading asymptomatically,” said Poe.

The health department struggled all summer with the spread of the virus. As more cases were diagnosed, fewer and fewer of them could be traced to a known source. That means, said Poe, there continue to be far more cases of Covid in the county than have been detected.

The Oct. 14 event will also impact the county’s overall Covid positive rate which remains the highest in the state, said Poe.

“By testing people who have not been tested before and testing people who are asymptomatic and more likely to be negative, we are both providing needed surveillance testing and likely improving the positive rate with more negative reported tests,” said Poe.

“We need to have more testing and be really careful when anyone has symptoms that they get tested. With that information, we get a lot of guidance to know what to do,” said Poe.

The week of July 5 through July 11, the county reported 173 new Covid cases. Roughly 60 days later, for the week of Sept. 6 through Sept. 12, the county reported 111 new Covid cases.

Poe said slowing the virus still hinges on the behavior of local residents.

“Really, it is the public behaviors that will determine how the virus spreads,” said Poe. “When you go out in public, keeping distance, wearing a mask, sanitizing surfaces, those things really do work and lower the risk.”

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-235-1003.


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