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Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden visits Gresham's COVID-19 free test site to help craft Federal policy

COURTESY PHOTO: MULTNOMAH COUNTY - A free COVID-19 testing facility in Gresham has been open since June. One afternoon, a free COVID-19 testing site in Gresham saw visitors including a young girl gripping tightly onto a large teddy bear, a man exposed to an ill coworker, and the family members of people who have tested positive.

Many were anxious, both to find out their results and to undergo the uncomfortable test. But the Multnomah County testing site is serving people across the region who are symptomatic or referred by contact tracers. The county tests are prioritizing immigrant and refugee residents, people of color and people who don't have a health provider or insurance.

"We're really pleased to provide easy access to testing to our neighbors in East County, especially for those communities who bear a heavier burden for disease," said Kim Toevs, communicable disease director. "We hope anyone who feels sick will come and get tested quickly."

Last week, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden swung by Gresham's COVID-19 testing site — not because he was feeling sick but to learn how to expand low-barrier testing and what is needed to rein in a virus that disproportionately impacts low-income and essential workers, and Black and Indigenous communities.

COURTESY PHOTO: MULTNOMAH COUNTY - Sen. Ron Wyden visited the Gresham testing site to learn what the health officials need to keep things going smoothly. Wyden's trip to East Multnomah County comes as he helps craft the next phase of federal COVID-19 relief.

"If you were writing this bill, what would be your priorities?" he asked the leaders of the testing site.

They said health departments need more direct funding to county governments and more flexible funding to allow them to expand partnerships with community organizations. The site wants to provide more culturally and linguistically appropriate services. They also raised concerns about an increasing lag in test results and demands from employers requiring employees provide proof of negative COVID-19 testing before work.

The testing site in Gresham has been open since June. Nurses administer the test, which they admit is uncomfortable and can hurt. Visitors drive through the testing site and get a swab deep into their nasal cavity. Then they must wait three to five days for results, as labs are backlogged and tests are being sent out of state. Those tested are notified when their results are returned.

The statewide average for Oregon positive test results is about 5%. But some days in Gresham the testing site has seen a positive rate as high as 40% to 50% on any given day.

"It means we're testing the right people," said Nick Tipton, a manager at the Rockwood Health Center who offered to help oversee the operation.

Get tested:

Schedule a visit to the COVID-19 drive-through testing site — call 503-988-8939

Connect with primary care — call 503-988-5558

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