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County revamps testing guidelines

| April 17, 2020 8:52 AM

Two more potential barriers to coronavirus testing in Lincoln County bit the dust Monday.

The Lincoln County Board of Health, during an emergency meeting, unanimously approved new testing directives proposed by Dr. Brad Black, the county’s health officer.

The measures, designed to increase participation in testing, eliminated a provision that had required even those without COVID-19 symptoms to self-quarantine after testing until lab results were available.

That process has taken two to three days. Black and others, including board member George Jamison, have observed that this requirement surely discouraged participation by many of the asymptomatic people the health department wants to test.

That group includes those whose jobs can up the odds of exposure to the coronavirus: such as healthcare workers, grocery store workers, convenience store clerks, motel employees, police officers and sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, ambulance crews and other emergency responders.

Workers without symptoms would not want to lose time on the job just because they participated in testing, Jamison has said.

Black said ongoing testing likely will be necessary for months to monitor the potential spread or reemergence of the respiratory disease — which poses unique risks to the people in Lincoln County who have suffered lung damage because of asbestos exposure.

In addition, a directive approved during the April 13 meeting reaffirmed that no one who is tested for COVID-19 will have to pay for the process.

“If someone gets a bill, they need to bring it to our attention,” Black said later.

In other action, the board finalized a letter to U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines that emphasized the region’s heightened vulnerabilities to COVID-19.

The letter reported that about 25 percent of the residents of Libby and Troy are afflicted, at varying severities, with asbestos related disease.

“Our most effective management model is a robust testing system,” the letter advised. “The biggest threat to management is the asymptomatic populace. Testing the symptomatic alone is chasing the virus, whereas random testing will allow us to diagnose asymptomatic ‘carriers,’ isolate them and keep carriers from our high-risk populace.”

The board’s letter cited EPA’s 2009 declaration of a Public Health Emergency for the Libby Superfund Site because of the region’s legacy of vermiculite mining, asbestos contamination and asbestos related disease.

The board said it hopes to perform about 1,300 random tests per month on asymptomatic residents but lacks the supplies to do so. An attachment to the letter to Daines and Tester included an itemized list of needed supplies, ranging from nasal swabs to N95 masks.

For questions about COVID-19 or testing, call the Lincoln County coronavirus information line at (406) 293-6295.

photo

A nasal swab and vial used for coronavirus testing. (Duncan Adams/The Western News)