Lane County, White Bird get more than $772,000 to expand COVID-19 testing

To help health organizations expand COVID-19 testing capacity, Lane County government and White Bird Clinic are receiving more than $772,000 from the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS is giving $9,039,390 to 30 hospitals, health facilities and county governments throughout Oregon. Of that, $570,619 was allotted to Lane County and $201,589 to White Bird Clinic.

White Bird is looking at using some of its funds to invest in equipment for testing.

“We’re going to develop what we call ‘point of care’ testing,” Chris Hecht, executive coordinator at White Bird Clinic, said. “Basically what it means is we’re looking to get rapid testing equipment.”

The clinic is on a long waiting list for the equipment, but it could mean clients hoping to go to the dentist, or otherwise need to come into contact with health professionals, are able to test for COVID-19 with immediate results, and thus save health care workers added exposure.

Hecht added that while testing only symptomatic people has been the norm, there may soon be a shift to testing asymptomatic people.

Lane County spokesman Jason Davis said that the county hasn’t yet made an itemized list of how it intends to use the money.

“Potentially, our clinics can help use that money to shoulder some of the impacts of COVID-19,” Davis said. “But I think what we’ll see in the next week or so is where the money goes.”

Davis said the money will be used to help vulnerable populations and those without insurance, people who often use the services at Federally Qualified Health Centers, community-based health care providers.

Across the nation, almost $583 million was awarded to 1,385 Health Resources and Services Administration health centers to support testing capacity. Nearly 88% of HRSA-funded health centers report testing patients, with more than 65% offering walk-up or drive-up testing, according to the news release. Health centers are providing more than 100,000 weekly COVID-19 tests in their local communities.

“Expanding testing capacity is an integral step in our fight to treat, and eventually reopen, our communities,” said Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in a news release about the funding. “I hope this winds up being a down payment on the national strategy and national resources for widespread testing and contact tracing that the country is desperately waiting for.”

The funding is part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, signed into law April 24. The legislation provides funding for small businesses and individuals financially affected by COVID-19, additional funding for hospitals and health care providers, and increased testing capabilities to help track the spread and impact of the coronavirus.