Health officer says communitywide COVID-19 testing is unlikely to continue

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In the first of what the Chelan-Douglas Health District says will be weekly video updates, Health Officer Dr. Malcolm Butler on Thursday said widescale community COVID-19 testing is unlikely to continue.

“That testing is incredibly expensive,” Butler said. ” It is about $150 per test, and so it is something that we’ve been able to afford up until now. And I think going forward we’re not going to be able to afford the same kind of broad community-based testing we’ve been doing.”

But that doesn’t mean all coronavirus testing will stop, he said.

A community testing site for all of Chelan and Douglas counties is still available through Confluence Health on Emerson Street in Wenatchee, he said, and other health care providers will continue to offer tests.

If someone thinks they’ve been exposed to the virus, they should come in for testing, Butler said.

The health district has been holding free community testing for the past six weeks. Wenatchee and East Wenatchee testing wraps up today.

In October, the health district offered the testing in Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Entiat, Rock Island, Mansfield and Chelan Falls.

Out of 2,100 people tested in those communities, there were 34 positives. That’s a positivity rate of 1.6 percent, he said.

He pointed out that those tested were most often healthy and showing no symptoms of COVID-19, so it was a fair representation of the community as a whole.

Those numbers, however, would indicate that if a school had 100 people in it between staff and students, one or two would be contagious with the virus.

Finally changing phases

Butler also talked about Chelan and Douglas counties being moved this week from a modified Phase 1 to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee Safe Start reopening plan.

The primary difference for the county was more businesses being allowed to open or expand their services.

For example, restaurants can now serve up to 50 percent capacity instead of 25 percent and movie theaters and bowling alleys can now reopen at limited capacity.

Chelan and Douglas were two of only five counties in the state that had not advanced to at least Phase 2. The phased reopening became something of a “mess,” Butler said.

“You’ll remember that we started into this in May. At that time I think there were a lot of hopes and aspirations that this phased reopening would gradually get the economy back open and we’d avoid the catastrophic surge in hospital cases that were seen in New York City, Italy and other places.”

That’s not how it played out, he said.

“What we actually saw happen was that some counties opened up, others didn’t and it became a mess. Within our own county it seemed quite unfair.”