Olympic Medical Center and Jefferson Healthcare have begun in-house testing for COVID-19, reducing the turnaround time for test results.
Health officials on the North Olympic Peninsula also have deployed a patient-collected nasal swab that does not require a heath care worker to insert a nasopharyngeal swab into the back of a person’s nasal cavity.
Jefferson Healthcare last week began a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 that can be done at the Port Townsend hospital, county Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.
“It just takes a couple of hours to get the result, and it’s my understanding that Olympic Medical Center is very close to having the same capability,” Locke said in a Wednesday.
“Both hospitals did PCR tests for other things before this.”
OMC spokeswoman Bobby Beeman said Thursday she expected the Port Angeles hospital to begin in-house testing for COVID-19 Friday.
“We can produce the result in an hour but are prioritizing in-house testing for emergency department orders, hospital inpatients, nursing home residents and emergent surgery patients until we receive additional COVID-19 testing cartridges to expand the test to general outpatients,” Beeman said in an email.
“Remaining tests will be continued to be sent to the University of Washington lab.”
Likewise, Jefferson Healthcare is prioritizing in-house testing for its emergency department and inpatients because of shortages in COVID-19-specific test cartridges that fit into existing PCR machines, Locke said.
“We’re still sending a lot of samples to the University of Washington because we’re getting a 24-hour turnaround from them,” Locke said.
“So we’re really doing both,” Locke said. “People in the emergency room and people who are inpatients, they use the in-house test because they kind of need to get their results right away.”
In-house testing will be expanded when Jefferson Healthcare receives more COVID-19 cartridges from the manufacturer, Locke said.
New studies have shown the patient-collected nasal swabs are “just as effective” as the nasopharyngeal swabs used by health care workers, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
Nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs are inserted by health care workers into a patient’s nasal cavity “going back as far as basically your ear,” Unthank said.
“It’s not dangerous, but it’s unpleasant,” Unthank said in a Wednesday COVID-19 briefing.
“We are recommending transitioning to only nasal swabs outside of the inpatient setting. So people at the hospital still should get an NP swab. Everyone else in clinics, or anyone in the public who’s feeling sick, will actually just get a swab of their nose.”
In addition to being more comfortable for the patient, the new swabs do not require a health care worker to wear personal protective equipment.
“The significance of that is it puts less risk on the health care provider,” Locke said.
“So, for instance, in our drive-by clinics, people can roll down their window, we can hand them the specimen kit, they can roll up their window, swab their nose, put it into the kit media and hand it out. There isn’t the exposure risk.”
Locke agreed the patient-collected swab is “just as good in terms of its ability to detect infection.”
“It’s easier on the patient, and it has less risk for the person collecting the sample,” Locke said.
“It should be a quicker, easier way of getting tested going forward,” Unthank said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].