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Front-line workers in Haywood get tested for coronavirus

Cars line up for drive-thru COVID-19 testing at Haywood Community College on the morning of April 28. Haywood County photo Cars line up for drive-thru COVID-19 testing at Haywood Community College on the morning of April 28. Haywood County photo

Several hundred workers lined up by car at Haywood Community College April 28 to receive drive-through testing designed to gauge the level of asymptomatic, undetected COVID-19 cases in Haywood County, and if all goes well the results will soon help county decisionmakers evaluate the feasibility of reopening parts of Haywood County’s economy. 

“This is a targeted study on behalf of the health department to give them an assessment or a snapshot of the essential business workers in Haywood County,” said Greg Shuping, Haywood’s emergency services director. “The folks on the front lines, they are working day in and day out to provide essential things like stuff from a hardware store, or groceries. Those are the essential workers we’re talking about that we have invited to voluntarily participate in this snapshot study.”

The testing event, conducted by the Haywood County Department of Health and Human Services, was designed “to survey individuals who live and work in Haywood County in high traffic, essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations and retail establishments who do not show symptoms of COVID-19,” according to a release issued by the county at the event. 

County officials contacted major employers asking for voluntary cooperation with the testing, which is confidential and protected by privacy controls implemented within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA). 

The county estimated that as many as 300 people would be tested at the one-day event; by 8:30 a.m. that morning, more than 50 cars were lined up, awaiting their chance. 

“The tests came from LabCorp, and the cost of an analyzed test is $51 and change,” Shuping said. The county will pay for the tests, but the cost should be eligible for reimbursement by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration.

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“We’ve only tested 200-some people in this county, and we’re going to double or triple that today or this week,” said Shuping. “What’s the value of knowing more numbers to make better decisions?”

The release added that the general public would not be tested because the county does not currently possess the capacity to test all 60,000 Haywood County residents.

“This study aims to gather a sampling of asymptomatic individuals who have been at higher risk of exposure due to their roles as essential workers,” reads the release. “As more test kits become available, more testing opportunities may be offered.”

Additionally, a number of medical practices in Haywood County now have the capacity to test patients who have symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, shortness of breath, cough, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or a recent loss of taste or smell. 

Shuping said LabCorp would pick up the testing kits at the conclusion of the day’s testing, and results could be back within two to four days. That leaves plenty of time for the results to be presented to county commissioners well in advance of the expiration of both Haywood County’s and North Carolina’s “stay home” orders, which are set to expire on May 4 and May 8, respectively. 

“What that means for the commissioners and the mayors and the folks that are decisionmakers in our county is that they’re going to have the results of this study as well as the results of the medical community’s symptomatic testing before the governor’s deadline to reopen,” Shuping said. “We’re hoping to give them this so that they can make a better decision. It’s their decision, but it’s still a tough one.”

As always, those with questions about COVID-19 should call the Haywood County COVID-19 helpline at 828.356.2019 Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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