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Free COVID-19 testing site opens in Sylva

Free COVID-19 testing site opens in Sylva

Jackson County saw a modest increase in COVID-19 cases this week, with the disease confirmed in 25 residents as of Monday, May 18, compared to 22 residents on Tuesday, May 12. An additional two part-time residents and 22 non-residents who saw Jackson County health providers have been diagnosed — the part-time figure has held steady for some weeks, while the non-resident category increased by two over the past week. 

However, those numbers are expected to increase due to improved access to testing.

A drive-thru-site offering free COVID-19 testing opened at the Walmart parking lot in Sylva on Friday, May 15, and is open from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On May 15, 31 tests were administered, with an additional six tests given during a soft opening May 14. All 37 tests have come back negative — in total 1,145 tests had been administered in Jackson County as of May 18. 

The testing is made possible by eTrueNorth, a U.S.-based health care technology company that enables laboratory testing at retail pharmacies. The company has partnered with a growing list of national pharmacy chains — including Walmart — to offer free COVID-19 testing across the nation. The effort includes funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There are currently eight such testing sites in North Carolina. Prior to the Sylva site’s opening up, the closest such site was in Wilkesboro. 

“Walmart is part of the community, and we are proud to help support the expansion of COVID-19 testing in Sylva during this unprecedented time,” said Brooke Mueller, Walmart Public Affairs Director for North Carolina. “We are grateful to our associates who keep our stores running, our pharmacists who support these testing sites, and to eTrueNorth and local officials as we work together to open the site and help our community.” 

Tests will be available for first responders, health care providers, people with COVID-19 symptoms and asymptomatic people who are at high risk for the disease. Appointments must be made ahead of time at The appointment creation process will include a screening to ensure individuals meet Centers for Disease Control eligibility for testing. 

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The site uses a self-administered nasal swab test that allows those being tested to swab their own nose onsite while in their vehicles and observed by a trained medical volunteer who can ensure the sample is taken correctly. Those being tested are required to wear a mask and should bring an ID with them. Sealed samples are deposited upon leaving the drive-thru site, and eTrueNorth then processes test samples and communicates those results to those being tested and to the Department of Health. 

Individuals can find their results online at and will receive a text or email notification when results are available. Average turnaround time is three to five days from the day of collection. 

Jackson County, like the rest of the state, is in the midst of a phased reopening. At 5 p.m. Friday, May 8, the county lifted local restrictions that had banned gatherings of 10 or more people and lodging facilities like hotels and Airbnbs with leases of 30 days or less, and had also required people traveling to Jackson County from out of state or country to quarantine for 14 days following their arrival. However, the order lifting these restrictions made it clear that people should still think twice before planning a vacation to Western North Carolina.

“Though lodging facilities such as hotels, motels and short-term rentals are allowed to have a limited opening under (Gov. Roy Cooper’s) Executive Order No. 138, individuals need to remain vigilant to stop the spread of this virus,” the order reads. “Jackson County looks forward to the return of tourists to the area when appropriate, but this is not the time for a vacation.”

When leaving their homes, residents are asked to stay at least 6 feet away from those who are not part of their immediate household; to wear a cloth face covering in indoor public spaces, as well as outdoor public spaces where it’s not possible to maintain a 6-foot distance from others; to carry and use hand sanitizer when leaving home; to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds whenever possible; and to regularly clean high-touch surfaces like steering wheels, wallets and phones. Residents should stay home if sick.

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