WSU’s temporary mobile health unit helps keep up with increase in COVID-19 testing demand

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University is trying to help health officials track the virus to end the outbreak. It’s trying to test as many students as possible.

Whitman County has seen its number of positive coronavirus cases triple in the last week and a half. Officials are saying many of those are college-age students, even if WSU moved to remote learning for the start of the school year.

Phil Weiler, the vice president of marketing and communications with WSU, said they weren’t anticipating so many students living on campus. It wasn’t easy for some of the students to cancel their leases.

With more people testing positive for the virus, the university is trying to help meet that demand. From Wednesday to Friday, Range Health’s mobile unit, a collaboration between the colleges of nursing, pharmacy and medicine, is in Pullman to help test students only. Testing on campus for staff may come at a later date.

Junior Joe Dix came by to get his coronavirus test at WSU’s mobile health care unit Wednesday morning. He said he came into contact with a coworker who tested positive.

“I was kind of concerned, but then again I had no symptoms. Yesterday I had a fever and today, I don’t. So felt like it was the right thing to go get tested,” he told 4 News Now.

It was as easy as just traveling a few blocks to get to the temporary testing site. For those who live on Greek Row, it was only a walk away.

“It’s really important for us to remove as many barriers as possible because to be successful, we have to test as many people as we possibly can,” Weiler said.

With the temporary testing site, they hoped to test as many as 80 students per day through Friday. On Wednesday, they ended up testing more than 130 students. It only runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but will go later if necessary.

“We want to be able to get a handle on the spread that we think is happening in the college-age group. We know that we’ve seen a significant increase in positive tests,” Weiler said.

More than 400 people tested positive for the virus since last Monday, the first day of school. Since the start of the pandemic, about 600 people in total have been diagnosed in Whitman County.

Health officials are tracing a majority of the cases back to students at WSU. In addition, Pullman Police have cited 10 people for hosting parties in the last six days. Police Chief Gary Jenkins says they plan to go to city council in hopes to amend the ordinance so they can give students attending parties infractions, too.

“I know that students have a desire to get with their friends and to congregate, but now is not the time to do that,” Weiler said. “Now is the time for us to buckle down, maintain that distance, do that mask wearing, so that we can ultimately get back to what we want to get back to which is some sense of normality.”

RELATED: Pullman Police issue additional citations to party hosts violating COVID mandates

Dix told 4 News Now he’s being responsible, only surrounding himself with his roommates. He was trying to come home to Spokane for Labor Day weekend.

“I want to go home to my grandparents and not feel like I’m putting them at risk, but not going home obviously now, because I felt some symptoms,” he said.

The university has a local lab running tests. Up to 1,500 samples can be tested per day, Weiler said. He hopes to give students their results back within 24 to 48 hours, hoping to give students enough time to know if they can travel for the long holiday weekend.

The mobile health care unit will only be stationed in Pullman for just a few days. It gives the university a temporary place to test students before setting up more permanent sites.

Starting Tuesday, the university will have those two fixed testing sites throughout campus. One will be at Cougar Health Services, the other will be run by the Washington National Guard. The location of the latter is not known just yet. The National Guard will be in town Thursday to figure out those details. More information will be released to students later this week.

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