Free Seattle-wide COVID-19 testing to be offered
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced free citywide testing in a partnership with UW Medicine.
Following King County’s application to advance to a modified phase one in Gov. Jay Inslee’s updated “Safe Start Washington” plan, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced June 4 the launch of free citywide testing at two locations in north and south Seattle. As part of the announcement, Mayor Durkan and University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce signed a memorandum of agreement solidifying the partnership between the City of Seattle and UW Medicine. The joint effort is expected to increase capacity by more than 1,600 tests per day.
“As the first major U.S. city to take on this public health crisis, we learned early on the impact of the illness as it spread quietly due to the lack of testing," Durkan said. "Three-and-a-half months after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the region, life in the Pacific Northwest has entered a new normal where we all must remember to use appropriate hygiene, physical distancing and be tested when sick or exposed. The implementation of stringent mitigation measures have saved lives and slowed the spread of the virus, but the virus can quickly resurge if we don’t do testing, contact tracing and isolation. Without a vaccine, our behavior and testing are the most important factors to limiting COVID-19 spread and moving into new phases of normal. For individuals who are gathering, please use physical distancing and facial coverings, stay home when sick, and be tested.”
“The University of Washington is not only a state university, we are an integral part of the Seattle community. UW Medicine has been at the forefront of this pandemic and its virology lab developed one of the first COVID-19 tests in the country. This partnership is a great example of how we can amplify our impact through cooperation and collaboration. It is the right thing to do, and we are proud to be a part of this effort,” Cauce said.
“To rebuild our economy safely we need more testing capacity, and those with even mild symptoms or who have reason to believe they have been exposed need to get tested. This is an essential step in effective containment of the virus without strict stay-at-home requirements. That’s why we are working with healthcare providers across King County to create more testing options for anyone who may not have easy access, particularly in communities that have higher rates of infection,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.
“Testing for COVID-19 is more widely available across King County, and everyone with COVID-19 symptoms – even if not severe – and people who’ve had close contact with someone with COVID-19 should be tested as soon as possible,” said King County Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin. “Early testing is important whether you are young or old to help prevent spread of the virus in households and the community. Please check with your healthcare provider right away if you develop a new cough, difficulty breathing or other symptoms of COVID-19. Other symptoms that may be caused by COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell, vomiting or diarrhea, and sore throat. See our COVID-19 web page to find a testing location near you.”
“To ensure Seattle can safety open under Gov. Inslee’s phased plan, we must increase our testing capacity. Despite having insurance and primary care doctors, I’ve heard from many constituents who still can’t access or face increased barriers to COVID-19 tests,” said Councilmember Debora Juarez, District 5 North Seattle. “The city is utilizing its existing resources and relationships to expand available testing, so those diagnosed can self isolate and we can continue to slow the spread of coronavirus.”
“Seattle firefighters are committed to helping our region beat the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, we partnered with Seattle Police to set-up the first-in-the-nation testing site for first responders conducted by first responders. Shortly after, we implemented Mobile Assessment Teams to test residents and staff at long-term care facilities, who often suffer the worst consequences from COVID-19. We have adapted both of these models and are now ready to step into the new role of conducting widespread testing for members of the public,” said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. “I am proud of the members on my team who are devoted to the overall health of our community.”
Earlier this week, Mayor Durkan signed an emergency order to lease two former emissions testing sites for testing purposes. The facilities are located in north and south Seattle and will operate Monday thru Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and accommodate drive-thru clients who book ahead through the website. These sites are designed and intended for drive-up testing and are not ADA compliant for pedestrians. If you need walk-up testing with ADA accommodations, don’t worry. There are many options for free COVID testing. Please visit Public Health – Seattle King County’s website or call 206-477-3977 for more information. Most people can access testing through their regular health care provider The city is actively looking to add walk-up testing and additional capacity in West Seattle, another high-need area of the city.
Clients at the testing facilities will not be charged for testing and will not receive a bill, regardless of health insurance status. For insured clients, UW Medicine will handle the billing of an individuals’ private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. Under Washington law, insurance companies cannot charge co-pays for COVID-19 testing. For uninsured clients, UW Medicine will seek reimbursement directly from the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act Relief Fund for the cost of the test.
The citywide testing program was quickly developed in a matter of weeks once difficult to secure testing kits were available. Operations, from leasing to staffing, including added technology enabling the scaling to 1,600 patients per day, made possible through a partnership with U.S. Digital Response and Solv Health. U.S. Digital Response surveyed tools and landed on Solv Health who dedicated engineering time to adapt their easy-to-use booking tool to meet the needs of the Seattle’s testing sites. The platform was created and ready to launch within a two week timeframe.
“Working closely with these incredible partners to increase testing capacity is perfectly aligned with our mission of making healthcare simple, affordable and more accessible,” said Heather Fernandez, CEO and co-founder of Solv. “We’re excited to help the city test thousands of Seattleites.”
Building off the success of groundbreaking and national standard setting pilots, like the first responders testing site and mobile assesssment teams, the Seattle Fire Department has developed a cadre of experienced personnel to lead the citywide testing effort by administering tests. Thus far, nearly 70 percent of COVID-19 related deaths in King County are associated with long-term care facilities. The City of Seattle has focused its limited resources on testing our most vulnerable residents in those facilities like nursing and adult care homes. The Mobile Assessment Teams have visited 24 facilities, provided 1,310 tests and uncovered numerous positive cases among residents and staff. The knowledge of positive results has allowed facilities to quarantine asymptomatic individuals and isolate symptomatic and positive cases individuals to protect those living within the facilities and the surrounding community.
To help accommodate a safe and seamless testing process, the city highly urges potential clients to pre-register for appointments at www.seattle.gov/covid-19-testing. SFD estimates pre-registration will allow the testing procedure to take fewer than 10 minutes per test. Friday, June 5, is the first day of testing at the SoDo site. Monday, June 8, is the first day of testing at the Aurora site.
According to the Mayor's Office, "Early in the crisis, testing was limited, but we have entered a new phase. COVID-19 can appear similar to the common cold or seasonal flu, and we are urging anyone with any of the following symptoms to seek testing: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea. Furthermore, if you have been in close contact with someone for 15 minutes or longer who has COVID-19 you should also be tested."
Testing results can be accessed by individuals online, and those who test positive will be contacted, given information on next steps, and a referral to Public Health – Seattle & King County. Public Health, in partnership with the State Department of Health, operates a contact tracing program to help prevent peope with positive cases from spreading the virus to their families and the surrounding community.
As cities across the country transition to reopening, widespread testing is commonly considered one of the most important measures to provide the confidence residents and businesses need to feel safe. Testing is the critical component to slowing the spread of COVID-19. It allows public health personnel to implement contact tracing – notifying individuals who were exposed so they can quarantine, testing when needed, and helping people with positive cases to isolate which reduces virus spread within households, workplaces, and communities.
Increased capacity for citywide testing will help increase community safety, trust and confidence as we take steps towards our new normal, the Mayor's Office said.