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Sanders County holds first COVID-19 testing event

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By Rob Zolman / Valley Journal

HOT SPRINGS – Sanders County area resident Tammy Beerntsen waited in a steady line of cars Thursday morning for the opportunity to participate in a free drive-thru COVID-19 testing event held at the Hot Springs rodeo grounds. 

“I wanted to come down to make sure everything was ok,” said Beerntsen who suffers from kidney failure, which is a condition that makes her more susceptible to being deathly ill from the virus.

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Health organized the event in collaboration with the Sanders County Public Health Department. It was the first testing event in the county. Sanders County hasn’t had any reported cases of COVID-19. 

“Makes you a little nervous when your county doesn’t show up on the state map with the other surrounding counties,” said Beerntsen, who also noted she was appreciative for the chance to get tested.

The entire drive-thru testing process took on average less than 20 minutes to complete. According to Beerntsen, the testing experience wasn’t painful. “It was ok,” she said. 

Greg Gould is the operations chief for the Unified Command Center, created by Lake County and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to work on COVID-19 related issues. Gould reported that there was an uninterrupted flow of traffic going through the testing site during the first hour. The event ran for four hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The flow of traffic started to taper off to a steady lull by the afternoon. At the end of the event, a total of 258 participants were tested. 

Studies suggest that asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus are more common than once thought, and mass testing events are one of the tools officials are using to track the virus. 

During the event, Taylor Salmi, of Hot Springs, was another testing participant. “If I do have it, I don’t want to spread it to others,” said Salmi. “We have to protect our elders and immune-compromised people.”

Test kits, from the event, will be tested at the lab at different times in an effort to speed up the process for those that have symptoms. For people with COVID-19 symptoms, the test results are scheduled to be ready in 24 to 28 hours from the time of the test. The test results will come back in seven to 10 days for those who did not report symptoms. 

Health officials urged all participants to practice basic protective health measures to reduce the chance of being infected or spreading the virus, including wearing face coverings when in public, washing hands with soap and water and maintaining six feet of social distancing

Another community drive-thru COVID-19 testing event is not in the works at this time; however, plans are being developed for a different style of event. Gould explained that a plan to launch a COVID-19 “sentinel surveillance program” is being developed with a target towards vulnerable populations. “Instead of the big mass testing, we are opting for a more targeted approach, meaning smaller testing events held in more frequent increments.”

Those who have questions or concerns about COVID-19 should call the UCC COVID-19 call center at 406-275-2779 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, or email at info@ucc-jic.com. Tribal Health also has a coronavirus call center to take calls from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 406-849-5798 or send questions to COVID19@cskthealth.org.

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