Committee hopes to obtain island COVID-19 testing

“We need to get this right … to avoid what is happening in the other parts of King County.”

  • Monday, March 30, 2020 1:06pm
  • News

By Kevin Opsahl

If you live on Vashon-Maury Island and are looking to get tested for coronavirus without leaving, you’re out of luck.

But VashonBePrepared, the nonprofit tasked with preparing for and responding to emergencies ranging from snowstorms to terrorist attacks — and yes, pandemics — are hoping to change that with the help of a steering committee run by one of the entities it oversees, the volunteer Medical Reserve Corps.

That information was announced this week in a VashonBePrepared news release, which provided statements from several officials on the committee, including Dr. John Osborn, an ER physician who is the co-coordinator of the MRC.

“Vashon Island still has time, but the clock is ticking. We must move quickly, and we need to get this right if we are going to avoid what is happening in the … other parts of King County,” Osborn said.

Although as of press time VashonBePrepared reports there are no islanders with a confirmed case of coronavirus, King County continues to see an increase in the number of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19. Public Health – Seattle & King County has reported more than 1,000 county residents have the virus.

The committee’s formation was made all the more significant over the weekend, when one islander posted on Facebook last weekend that she had been transported off-island and tested for coronavirus.

Shauna Ahern later reported her test came back negative and she is recovering at home, but that didn’t stop her from using social media to take issue with the fact that the island has no testing available.

“There still have been NO TEST KITS in our town. Think about that,” she wrote. “I live in a closed system, an island with 10,000 people, and no one here has been tested unless they went to the emergency room, like I did last night.”

Officials with the island’s health clinics said they had no capacity to test their patients if they suspected they had or showed symptoms of COVID-19.

Neighborcare Health, the Seattle-based nonprofit which operates the island’s largest clinic, was supposed to roll out testing last week, but pulled back on implementation — at least temporarily — due to operational concerns.

Vashon Natural Medicine said its clinicians are “doing our best” to refer patients to off-island providers such as Multicare, CHI Franciscan or Kaiser Permanente, for testing.

Fern Cove Natural Medicine said it is also not offering testing, nor has it seen any patients with reported symptoms of coronavirus. Like Vashon Natural Medicine, Dr. Lisa Morse, who heads up Fern Cove, said she would refer any patient who thinks they have COVID-19 to The Everett Clinic.

But islanders like Ahern might have a glimmer of hope. Public Health – Seattle & King County recently announced the county had received 4,000 testing kits from the federal government.

“Testing capacity …. is better today than it was a few days ago,” the agency’s press release said. “Still, we continue to experience gaps with test kits in the areas of our highest priorities.”

The MRC steering committee on coronavirus testing meets daily, according to the news release VashonBePrepared put out. Committee members are “actively reaching out to labs, active COVID testing projects and programs, and to their personal contacts in the medical and science community in Puget Sound and nationwide.”

It remains to be seen when coronavirus testing will be available on the island, but Osborn issued a word of advice to everyone, even if they don’t have COVID-19.

“We ask that island residents — all of you — strictly adhere to public health recommendations including social distancing and hygiene,” he said in a statement. “Public health measures are our one and only weapon in this war with the virus. Right now, we are losing that war and we must turn the tide. This is something all of us can do to protect our friends and family.”

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