Virus testing remains available

WhidbeyHealth is continuing to offer COVID-19 testing, free of charge in many cases, to a broad range of people.

WhidbeyHealth Chief Nursing Officer Erin Wooley said the medical center is following testing guidance from the Washington State Department of Health, which offers advice about who to test and why.

The guidance states that people with symptoms such as a fever, cough or runny nose, should be tested, regardless of their age or health status.

And whether they are displaying symptoms or not, people who have been in close contact with a person infected with the virus should also be tested.

The state Department of Health’s guidance also recommends limiting testing among asymptomatic people to those who have been in close contact with a case, individuals exposed in a congregate setting such as a long-term care facility, people who are pregnant or undergoing surgery and newborns of parents who are suspected of having, or who have tested positive for, COVID-19.

Additionally, testing is recommended for people from racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected by adverse COVID-19 outcomes, such as their work environment, living circumstances or inequitable access to healthcare, and higher rates of chronic medical conditions which puts them at higher risk.

“Primarily, we are happy to test anyone,” Wooley said. “We’re not going to deny somebody testing.”

While anyone can get tested for the virus, some health insurance providers may not cover the cost of the test, depending on the reason for taking it.

Wooley refers to those instances as “testing gray areas.”

For example, Wooley said, insurance companies may not cover the cost of testing for reasons relating to travel, either personal or business. She encourages patients to check to see what guidelines their insurance companies are using to determine if testing costs are covered before calling to make an appointment.

If the travel is business-related, she recommended patients speak to their employers to determine if testing costs will be reimbursed.

Simple curiosity may also not be enough to get the fee waived. In the situations above, asymptomatic people are able to get testing covered by their insurance since they meet the criteria, but are not if they don’t and just want to know their status.

For tests not covered by insurance, there will be an upfront charge of $150.

The bulk of that charge pays for lab fees, Wooley said. The samples are sent to Northwest Pathology, a lab in Bellingham, to be processed.

Thirteen percent of the cost covers WhidbeyHealth personnel and supplies.

“WhidbeyHealth is not profiting from COVID-19 testing,” Wooley said.

The Bellingham lab has been reporting test results in about 24 to 48 hours, a quick turnaround time, Wooley said.

COVID-19 testing on Whidbey is happening more than when it first began. Testing methods have changed as well. The long cotton swab is not inserted as deeply into the nasal passage anymore, Wooley explained. Now the swab presents a “moderate tickle” for most people.

Testing lasts about 30 seconds, the amount of time it takes to insert a swab into both nostrils. WhidbeyHealth does most of its testing at the “drive-thru” style locations in Clinton, Coupeville and Oak Harbor.

Wooley acknowledges that it can be difficult having a limited amount of locations for testing in Island County.

For people who are uninsured, she said, WhidbeyHealth will work with them to determine if they are eligible for Medicaid or see if money from the CARES Act will help to cover the cost.

During a public health board meeting last week, the Island County commissioners discussed the possibility of allocating some of the county’s CARES funds toward paying for tests if people can’t afford them.

Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman said in an interview that the CARES money could be one of several sources of federal funding for COVID tests.

He added that federal dollars from the CDC has been flowing into public health institutions and jurisdictions in the county that could be used for testing.

Right now, covering the cost of testing for people who are either uninsured or unable to afford it does not present a challenge for public health.

“I don’t see it as an overwhelming block in a family’s ability to get tested,” Higman said. “We have a variety of sources to pay for that.”

To make an appointment at a WhidbeyHealth location for COVID-19 testing, call 360-240-4055 between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.