Linn and Benton counties plus a local nonprofit serving the mid-valley Latinx population held a free COVID-19 testing drive at South Albany High School on Saturday.
The drive-through event administered 224 free coronavirus tests to individuals and families between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. It was organized by Casa Latinos Unidos, a nonprofit group based in Corvallis that provides free and low-cost programs to help bridge cultural gaps that otherwise leave the Latinx population at a disadvantage.
“COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color, including the Latinx community,” said Casa Latinos Unidos Linn County health liaison Cynthia De La Torre. “Relief and also support for them has always been a barrier. So this is an event to support them.”
The tests were made possible through the $99,000 Protecting Oregon’s Farmworkers grant given to the Benton County Health Department by the Oregon Health Authority. According to Benton County Health Navigation Program Manager Kelly Volkmann the money supports local health relief outreach staff and expenses.
“It’s been extremely busy,” said the site’s OHA testing coordinator Tom Mynes, who added that many events recently have been organized to help disadvantaged communities. “There’s a lot of requests for OHA to do these events.”
Saturday’s event surpassed the number of tests administered at a site Mynes oversaw, with the previous one-day record being 212 tests given at a similar event in Malheur County.
Although all were welcomed for tests at the South Albany High School parking lot, much of the outreach was directed toward the mid-valley’s Spanish speakers. Before being tested, attendees also had opportunities to pick up bilingual resources about the Cascades West Ride Line, Community Services Consortium, WorkSource Oregon, the Greater Albany Public Schools’ Welcome Center, Legal Aid Service of Oregon, the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence, Linn County WIC, the Oregon Health Plan and the Oregon State University Extension Service.
Goodie bags with additional brochures about local aid organizations, boxes of masks, bottles of hand sanitizer and more were passed out to drivers. The first 250 registrants also received $25 WinCo Foods gift cards courtesy of Casa Latinos Unidos.
Luisa Cedillo, who was tested with her family on Saturday, said getting good news on the testing results would help give her some peace of mind while operating the family’s S&M Janitorial Service.
“One of us can go out and we’re basically putting everyone at risk,” said Luisa’s son David. “So we’re trying to do what’s best for all of us.”
Dozens of Linn-Benton volunteers as well as Casa Latinos Unidos and Oregon Health Authority staff directed traffic and helped participants self-administer the tests. The test model used was the Thermo Fisher Scientific TaqPath RT-PCR, which is minimally invasive and only required participants to swirl a nasal swab in their nostrils multiple times.
The Corvallis-based Willamette Valley Toxicology lab will process the tests in the coming days and participants should expect to get phone calls from either state or county officials with their results.
Corvallis resident Katy Blye, along with her husband and daughters, came to get tested just to be safe after recent out-of-state trips.
“We just were traveling in Utah and Nevada and not very many people (there) wear masks,” Blye recalled. “We saw this thing and thought it was a good opportunity. The kids want to see their grandparents, so that gives us more confidence.”
The testing site also did not discriminate against people who were asymptomatic. That’s what attracted Lebanon resident Pam McEuen and her 16-year-old son to come get tested. Both feared they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 but have since been symptom-free.
“We’ve been self-quarantining,” McEuen said. “We just want to make sure we were in the clear.”
Nia Tariq can be reached at 541-812-6091. Follow her on Twitter @NiaTariq.