COVID-19 testing site at State Fair Park in Yakima

Motorists queue as they enter the community COVID-19 testing site at State Fair Park in Yakima, Wash., on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.

Drive-thru COVID-19 testing will return to State Fair Park in Yakima in anticipation of greater need this winter, Yakima County health officials said Wednesday.

Nathan Johnson, local emergency response coordinator for the Yakima Health District, said the community-based sites in Yakima and Sunnyside that offer free COVID-19 testing are experiencing “extremely high levels” of testing. The Sunnyside Community Center site clears more than 200 tests a day, Johnson said during the county health board meeting Wednesday, and the site at Yakima Valley College is clearing “over 600 tests routinely a day.”

“With that and the anticipation of more testing coming up as the Oct. 18 vaccine mandate rolls around, and certainly as we get further into cold and flu season and more people are experiencing symptoms and wanting to get tested to see if it’s flu or if it’s COVID, we’re anticipating a need to increase our testing capacity in Yakima County,” Johnson said.

Another community-based testing site will help take the load off hospital emergency rooms and health care providers, Johnson said. People have been asked not to go to emergency rooms if they only need a COVID test.

“With that, we are bringing back a community-based drive-thru test site at State Fair Park. ... It will be in partnership with Columbia Safety, who will be staffing it,” Johnson said. “It will be a five-day (a week) operation and the goal is to have that open no later than Oct. 18.”

He said he’ll be working with Columbia Safety, the University of Washington Lab and State Fair Park to get the pieces together. Some employers have required a weekly negative COVID test result in lieu of a vaccine.

The Sunnyside and YVC sites will remain open. County health officials have adjusted the days and hours of the current testing sites to ensure free COVID-19 testing is available seven days a week. The Sunnyside site at 1521 S. First St. is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Yakima site at 810 S. 14th Ave. is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Health board member Naila Duval wanted to ensure the drive-thru testing site at State Fair Park has at least one day with later hours. “I think it’s very important that there’s a wide variety of times,” she said.

Officials plan to have at least one evening option at State Fair Park, Johnson said, along with a weekend day. “We’re anticipating this site will run Sunday through Thursday” to give seven-day-a-week coverage in the city of Yakima, he added.

The added community testing site at State Fair Park will use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are used at the current sites, Johnson said in response to a question from health board member Dr. Dave Atteberry. Board member Amanda McKinney also asked about the turnaround time for test results.

“They go to the University of Washington lab and we also utilize their courier service. We get a pretty quick turnaround on those results as well,” Johnson said. “It’s max three days; it’s typically within two days, though.”

Andre Fresco, executive director of the health district, said officials are in the planning stages now for what they will need to do to support the community in colder months at the same time students are back attending school in person.

“We want to maintain an open community — that’s our focus,” he said.

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