National Guard to be deployed to WSU as COVID-19 cases rise in Pullman

Cougar Pride With A Covid 19 Coronavirus Mask
Unknown people placed a Covid-19 coronavirus face mask over the mouth area of the Cougar Pride statue outside Martin Stadium on the Washington State University Pullman campus, Friday, April 17, 2020.
Credit: Dean Hare, WSU Photography Services

PULLMAN, Wash. — The Washington National Guard is making arrangements to deploy to Washington State University after Labor Day, with the goal of expanding testing as COVID-19 cases rise among students.

Since August 24th, almost 350 people have tested positive for the virus in Whitman County. That was also the first day of classes for WSU.

Troy Henderson, the director of Whitman County Public Health, said more than 90 percent of people testing positive are between the ages of 18 and 25 in Whitman County. There are some people who aren’t WSU students in that age range who also tested positive.

“But the vast majority would be associated with the university,” Henderson said.

The University says the arrangements with the Washington National Guard have not been finalized yet.

Major James Hopkins, the Washington National Guard’s COVID testing officer in charge, says they have medical planners sit in a joint operation center working with the military department and department of health. They look across the state to figure who is having an increase in positive COVID tests. Once they identify those areas, they reach out to those communities and ask them if they are in need of help from the National Guard.

“Pullman said ‘We could definitely used your help,'” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said when the Washington National Guard gets deployed to Pullman, they plan to be there for two to three weeks.

In the meantime, WSU’s ‘Range Health’ mobile health unit has been repurposed to provide testing for students. Starting this Wednesday, the mobile unit will be parked in Greek Row, allowing up to 80 students a day to get diagnostic testing between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. through Friday.

According to the University, this will bridge the gap until they launch their fixed testing site next week. WSU says this is part of their effort to expand testing capacity as coronavirus cases rise among students.

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“Our presence in Pullman highlights WSU’s capacity to function as an effective network that leverages the resources of all of its campuses and extension offices,” said mobile health unit manager Michaelle Guerrero. “We’re flipping the existing healthcare model by moving away from the huge overhead associated with large physical locations and instead nimbly responding to the pressing health needs of rural and underserved communities.”

The mobile health unit was unveiled in October, operated by Range Health—a nonprofit academic healthcare network led by executives from WSU’s College of Medicine, College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Services.

The mobile unit was designed to bring health care to rural and under-served communities.

“We welcome as much testing that could be brought to bear to get a good picture of what’s going on,” Henderson said.

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For students looking to get testing, no appointments are needed, but they are encouraged to bring health insurance information and socially distance.

“People will need to be mindful of traffic flow as well as maintaining appropriate physical distancing as our clinicians discuss testing options with patients in their cars or those who present on foot as walk-ins,” said Guerrero.

WSU says the mobile unit has the ability to continue operating past 3 p.m. each day if the demand is high.

With the help of the mobile unit, WSU’s health clinic now testing and the Washington National Guard, Henderson hopes to double the testing capabilities, which is at about 200 tests per day right now.