MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Monongalia Co. Health Department (MCHD) held a free COVID-19 test drive at the West Virginia University Rec Center on Friday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Dr. Lee Smith, MCHD’s executive director, said the goal was to get around 500 tests administered but at the end of the day, the ultimate goal was to get as many people tested as possible. That is why the executive director said he was thankful for the West Virginia National guard and WVU, because MCHD could not do it all on their own. Smith said through this group effort, the county is trying to ramp up testing and move to mass testing weekly, but they want to find a day of the week that is convenient for most people.
“We’ve considering moving the day even to Wednesday, but we haven’t made that decision yet,” Smith said. “If we did it on Wednesday it may be helpful for weekend sports, we want to continue to do as many community tests as possible. When we were in the yellow and we moved to orange, you fall under a governor’s mandate to do additional testing. When we went from orange to red we have to do weekly testing. But now that we’ve fallen back into orange we are going to continue to do weekly testing because we want to change the narrative.”
The narrative Smith wants to change is the pervasive idea that stems from the beginning of the pandemic when insurance companies generally did not pay for testing unless a patient was symptomatic. Now, Smith said, that is no longer the case, plus free testing drives like the ones operated by MCHD and other county health departments make that original narrative moot.
Anywhere from 25-40 percent of COVID-19 is spread through people who are asymptomatic, so that needs to become the focus, Smith said. If people wait until they feel the flu-like symptoms associated with the virus it might be too late and they may have already passed along their infection. That is why weekly testing, on a convenient day in an easily accessible location is vital to stopping the spread in Monongalia Co., the executive director said.
“We have 105,612 is the number that we use from the census and if I could get all those people tested at once it would be helpful in knowing what the disease burden is in our community,” Smith said. “But because people are asymptomatic and continue to go about their business we still have community spread, so we want to break that change of infectiousness by knowing who are the positive people and who are the contacts that need to quarantine and then offering this as additional testing for those who are contacts so that they can get back to their lives.”
At the end of the day, Smith said, the goal is to get back to normal, life before the pandemic, and testing is one of the best strategies to doing so. He said he wants to see businesses reopen, avoiding permanent closures and he wants to see children return to school without concern.
Some people think ramping up testing is for nefarious reasons, but again, Smith said, the only goal is a return to normalcy.
“I think that some people have suggested that we’re doing this in an effort to cook the books and drive the numbers down and that’s absolutely incorrect,” Smith said. “We’re doing this because we want to understand how many people in the county have the disease, particularly those that are asymptomatic and we want to break this chain of infection.”