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Getting a COVID test on San Juan Island

COVID-19 cases have steadily been increasing this summer.

While there may have been moments of running low on rapid tests, both public information officer for San Juan County’s COVID response team Brendan Cowan and Eventide Health’s Dr. William House assure the community that tests have been well-stocked. Cowan did, however, acknowledged that there was a national rapid test shortage. Both Cowan and House noted that being on an island has not made us any less likely to be able to restock quickly.

San Juan Island receives its testing supply from the San Juan County Health and Community Services department. House said the county has done outstanding and tireless work with contact tracing and helping to coordinate between many healthcare resources in the islands.

“Testing for the community has come via our practice, peace health, and some other local providers like Dr. Gulla. We’re lucky to have such amazing partners here,” House said.

House explained that while his clinic has been able to test everyone that is in need of a test, he wants people to know that Eventide does not test anyone who is simply looking to travel.

“We don’t have the capacity to simply test all comers. There has to be a process of triage as with all medical testing,” he said.

Cowan added that the county has not had any critical shortages in rapid tests yet, but the number of tests providers have been giving out has been increasing, which he said has been true for quite some time now with the Delta variant.

“With everything COVID, you never know, and it is hard to predict the way the supply chain is going,” he said.

With school back in session in person, many districts throughout the state are relying on rapid tests. Cowan said that with this in mind, the manufacturers have ramped up production to meet demand.

If anyone is in need of a test and has difficulty getting one, Cowan recommends mail order PCR tests, such as Lapcorp Pixel. You can order a test if you are symptomatic or have been exposed and they will bill your insurance. He has personally used one of these tests before.

“I put mine in the mail on a Thursday afternoon and I got my results Friday night, which is pretty amazing,” he said.

While he did say rapid tests are not as accurate as PCR tests, they are useful for a quick screening. Any positive rapid test will be followed up by a PCR test to ensure accuracy. If someone receives a negative rapid test but is symptomatic, they will also follow up with a PCR test to be safe.

According to Cowan, when looking at the local numbers, cases have continued to be fairly steady. When looking at the state data, cases are slowly coming down. However, although Cowan said things appear to look that way, it is too soon to know for sure if cases are actually declining.

“That would be very welcome news, but even if that happens, there’s a lag time between when cases slow and when hospitalizations slow. There is an even greater amount of time between those factors and when deaths slow down,” he said. “Right now, it looks like deaths are still starting to increase because of some long gaps between hospitalizations and reported deaths.”

While Cowan said that hospitals throughout Washington are at their breaking point, House shared that at the local level, Eventide is very busy, but treating more non-COVID cases than COVID cases.

The county is asking people to be as thoughtful as they can until the community gets past the current COVID surge and to keep in mind that it is important to protect the healthcare system, according to Cowan.

“Whether we are vaccinated or not or young or old whether we live on an island or live in a city that system is something that we all either rely on or might rely on,” he said. “So, taking care of that system and taking care of all the healthcare professionals is critical it’s a really big deal. We all end up in the same hospitals when we get seriously injured or ill.”

Some advice House recommended for the community is to keep vitamin D levels up, as he said he firmly believes this is a deciding factor in those who have devastating outcomes with COVID and those who don’t. He has researched studies on this and is conducting his own study as well.

While there may be a surge in cases, House stressed that the community should take the time to appreciate the wonderful community.

“I think the community should redirect focus away from fear and from outlets that tend to focus only on that,” he said. “We are at an interesting juncture in which people are pitted against one another. Division is never generally good or helpful.”

Adding onto that, Cowan said, “On the health department side we are continuously amazed by the way people are looking out for each other and taking care of each other. We are all trying to balance the need to be safe with the need to keep our lives moving forward.”