Skagit County’s COVID-19 drive-thru testing site will be restricted beginning Aug. 31 to those who live or work in the county.
County spokesperson Laura Han said the county can’t continue to test the number of people it does — an average of 348.5 per day through the first 12 testing days in August — due to limited funding and volunteers.
Skagit County’s priority is people who live and work here, she said.
“It’s not just money, it’s man-hours — and it’s man-hours that we just don’t have long term,” Han said.
County staff plan to add a screening station at the testing center to verify whether people live or work in Skagit County, according to a news release from the county.
At an Aug. 12 meeting, county Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson said the testing site had done about 20,000 tests, and 9,034 of them were in July.
She said 54% of the July tests were for those who live in Skagit County. Whatcom County residents, the second largest group, made up 22% of tests.
This trend has been consistent since the site opened, according to the release.
“In order to protect this vital service for Skagit County residents, we have to ask that those who do not live or work here seek testing elsewhere,” Johnson said in the release.
County Commissioner Lisa Janicki said at a cost of about $60,000 a week, testing anyone who is interested isn’t sustainable.
“I think that it was a good place to start,” she said. “We wanted to be as accommodating as possible.”
Skagit County’s drive-thru testing site at Skagit Valley College has been open for drop-in testing five days a week since April 21.
Federal CARES Act funding, which has supported the testing site, is set to expire in October, but Han said there will be a need for COVID testing well beyond that.
Public Health will downsize the site in order to ensure it can stay open.
Janicki said limiting the size of the testing site will let Public Health focus on deploying mobile testing to communities whose residents can’t make it to the drive-thru site.
Skagit County is the only county in the state that has been able to sustain a testing effort of this magnitude, Han said. In addition to funding, she said county staff have been stretched thin.
While the site was originally staffed primarily by volunteers, interest has dwindled and Public Health staff are now required to take time away from their regular work to help with testing.
Access to testing in Whatcom County is limited, according to the county’s COVID-19 resource page.
Whatcom County recently started a mobile testing site with the ability to do 240 tests per day, according to the county website. An appointment is required, and hours are limited. Snohomish County also operates a testing site by appointment.
Han said no formal request has been made to Whatcom County officials to ask about sharing the cost of the Skagit County site or contributing staff.
Janicki said she spoke with Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu about the possibility of collaboration, but was left with the impression Whatcom County wasn’t interested.
“If they had wanted to, they could have offered to participate financially,” she said.
Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said larger neighboring counties received more COVID-19 relief funding than Skagit, and he believes they could afford to run a similar site.
“It’s not a question of money or volunteers, it’s a question of having the commitment to step up and do it,” he said.