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COVID-19 cases are continuing to surge around the county, state and country. Sunday, Nov. 22, marked the fourth day in a row that the state reported a record-breaking high number of new daily cases, at 1,517. On Monday, another 1,174 were reported, bringing the total to 66,333.

Columbia County reported its own record-breaking high new number of daily cases on Friday, Nov. 20, at 20 cases, and on Saturday reported a third death.

A 75-year-old woman who tested positive on Oct. 23 died on Nov. 19 at Legacy Medical Center, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported on Saturday. The woman had underlying conditions.

As of Monday, Nov. 23, there were 440 cases reported in the county since the onset of the pandemic. In the two-week period from Nov. 9-23, there were 133 cases reported in the county, indicating a rapid spread of the disease through the community.

“We have substantial community spread by all measures in Columbia County,” said Michael Paul, county public health director at a briefing on Friday. “The virus is not in Wisconsin, China, New York— it’s here in Columbia County. We have substantial spread.”

Pandemic Testing

The Oregon Health Authority recommends that all people with new symptoms constant with COVID-19, regardless of the severity, get tested.

The test-positivity rate in the county has also increased, Paul said. Test positivity rates are calculated by dividing the total number of people who test positive for COVID-19 by the total number people who have been tested.

“That’s with approximately the same number of residents being tested each week,” Paul said. This indicates that there is a high rate of spread through the community, as evidenced by the growing number of cases reported week-to-week.

As the virus continues to spread through the community, below the Chronicle has compiled a guide to testing for residents who may have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms.

Who should be tested

The OHA recommends that all people with new symptoms constant with COVID-19, regardless of the severity, get tested. The virus doesn’t always present the same way but the symptoms to watch for include: fever or chills; cough; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; fatigue; muscle or body aches; headache; new loss of taste or smell; sore throat; congestion or runny nose; nausea or vomiting; and diarrhea.

Symptoms may appear between two days to two weeks after exposure to the virus, which is why it is important to self-isolate after coming in contact with a known case, according to the guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Most tests administered are diagnostic PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. These are often self-swabbed tests targeting the nasal passage and test for active coronavirus infection. Wait time for results can vary.

Testing events

Paul announced that the county will soon be offering free, weekly testing events. Beginning in December, there will be four-hour drive-thru testing events held at St. Helens High School on Wednesdays.

Anyone can be tested, regardless of whether they are symptomatic, Paul said. A pre-registration link will soon be available on the county public health website. Visit columbiacountyor.gov/departments/PublicHealth for information.

Columbia Health Services

Columbia Health Services offers the closest sites to be tested for COVID-19. The company has four health centers in Columbia County: the Sacagawea Health Center in St. Helens, the Clatskanie Health Center, the Rainier Health Center and the Spencer Health & Wellness Center in Vernonia.

Sherrie Ford, director of Columbia Health Service, said the center has the capacity to to test those who are symptomatic or fit the CDC definition of a close contact.

In order to schedule a test, patients must call and explain their symptoms or need for a test. A telehealth appointment with a nurse will be scheduled and the patient will be assessed, at which point a curbside test will be scheduled.

When the patient arrives at the clinic they are instructed to remain in their vehicle and call the center to have a team member come out to the car to collect the swab test. Rapid tests get results back in about 15 minutes and results are provided on site, Ford said. Non-rapid tests (PCRs) are sent to Quest labs and results are delivered in two to five days, she said.

The tests are sent to labs in the Portland-metro area and delays can occur when there is a high testing demand in the state, at which point it has taken up to 14 days to get results back, Ford said.

Insurance covers COVID-19-related visits and testing, and Ford said the clinic is reimbursed through a federal program if a patient is uninsured.

The clinic also offers a resource phone line that residents can call or text for information. It can set up home food deliveries for people who are quarantined, provide parenting resources, answer questions about testing and other queries. The phone number is 800-244-4870.

Legacy Health

Though there is a Legacy Medical Group center in St. Helens, testing for those patients is centralized at North West Portland locations, said director of Public Relations Brian Terrett. This is to conserve personal protective equipment and to minimize potential exposure of staff and patients, he said.

“Currently we have testing capacity to manage established patients with symptoms, as well as asymptomatic patients who meet OHA criteria for testing as supplies allow,” he said. “Patients with symptoms are prioritized over asymptomatic patients.”

Patients can call their doctors to set up a telehealth visit, and the doctor will decide if they are a candidate for testing and place an order, Terrett said. The drive-thru testing center will then call the patient to schedule an appointment and inform the patient the next steps from there. Results are delivered in approximately two to three days, he said.

Most insurances cover the cost, and uninsured patients may qualify to apply to Legacy’s charity care, Terrett said.

Rite Aid

In partnership with Project Baseline, a testing program developed in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health’s testing program and expanded to other states, select Rite Aids offer COVID-19 tests.

Select Rite Aid locations also offer testing through certain drive-thru pharmacies. There are two locations in Portland, and one location in Beaverton offering the tests. To schedule a test, visit riteaid.com/pharmacy/services/covid-19-testing.

Walgreens

There are four Walgreens locations in Oregon offering COVID-19 tests in partnership with the PWNHealth provider network.

The closest Walgreens location to Columbia County offering tests is at 115 N 20th Ave. in Cornelius.

There are three types of tests offered: a diagnostic lab test (results in 72 hours); a rapid diagnostic test (results in 24 hours); and a rapid antigen test (results in as little as one hour).

People with insurance or who are eligible for no-cost testing according to federal or state guidelines are unlikely to pay any out-of-pocket costs for the tests, according to Walgreens. Insurance providers should be contacted to confirm the tests will be covered.

A short online screening survey is required to schedule a testing appointment, and tests are available to most people above the age of 3.

If uninsured or ineligible for no-cost testing, the cost for both the diagnostic lab test and the rapid diagnostic test is $129, and the cost for a rapid antigen test is $49.

If you test positive

The Columbia County Public Health Department asks that people who test positive stay home for at least 10 days and one full day after the fever is gone and symptoms go away. Asymptomatic positive testers are also asked to stay home for 10 days.

It is also asked that people whp test positive make a list of people who they have spent time with, starting two days before they started to feel sick (or before they got tested if they do not feel sick). Anyone who was within 6-feet of them for more than 15 minutes is considered exposed, even if the contact was outside or with masks on. They are asked to contact these people and inform them to stay home and away from other for 14 days from the date the contact occurred.

It is recommended that employers are informed about positive test results so they may notify other employees who may have been exposed. Employers are required to keep identities confidential in these cases.

Other resources

For information about COVID-19, including food support and financial assistance, residents can call 211 or 1-866-698-6155. People can also test their ZIP codes to 898211 or email help@211info.org.

On Monday, Nov. 23, Columbia County issued a statement concerning the third pandemic-related death, including guidance for residents who test positive for COVID-19 or are in close contact with a positive case. Read that statement attached.

Governor Kate Brown will hold a press availability Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 26 to discuss Oregon's ongoing response to COVID-19, as well as health and safety measures that will take effect following the current two-week freeze.

The Chronicle will be following the press availability with details to follow.

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