Washington State University is moving aggressively to expand COVID‑19 testing capacity on the Pullman campus, part of its continuing commitment to helping manage the impacts of the global pandemic on students, faculty, staff and the community.
In the coming days, a coordinated system of mobile services and then a fixed site will begin providing symptomatic, diagnostic testing for the large number of students who returned to Pullman even though WSU had transitioned to a primarily distance delivery model for the Fall 2020 semester.
The fixed site, a project that’s been underway by Cougar Health Services in conjunction with state and local partners, is nearing completion and should be fully operational by early to mid September. To help bridge to that point, WSU Health Sciences Spokane is arranging for a mobile health care unit to arrive in Pullman by mid next week. Detailed announcements explaining both of those projects are coming soon.
“We have plans and teams in place,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “Our highest priority is the health and safety of our students, employees and the communities where WSU facilities are located. Just as we’ve done throughout this pandemic, we’re responding to emerging needs as they are identified and leveraging the expertise of our faculty, staff and community partners.”
The rapid push to increase testing capacity in Pullman comes as public health authorities report increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases involving WSU students living in privately owned, off campus housing.
Additionally, the University is working closely with law enforcement and others to address non-compliance with state and local heath mandates such as wearing masks, physically distancing and limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people. The Pullman Police Department is sharing information about citations and other enforcement actions involving students with WSU, which has the ability to open student conduct proceedings under the University’s Community Standards process.
The efforts build on WSU’s successful expansion of its Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory over the summer to rapidly process hundreds of human COVID-19 tests daily. The human testing section, WSU One Health Diagnostics, has been serving regional health care systems since early July. The lab has tested over 8,500 patients to date and is currently testing 500 to 1,000 samples daily to assist the state in combating the pandemic.
Although the University moved to a distance education model in July, many students already were locked in to apartment and housing leases. WSU officials met with landlords and property managers to explore options for flexibility in student lease contracts but were advised that they rely on those rent payments to meet their financial obligations.
Meanwhile, the expansion of campus-based COVID-19 testing services for students also is intended to help ease demand on healthcare facilities in Pullman and throughout Whitman County. Pullman Regional Hospital and Palouse Medical Group provide excellent service to the community, and are helping with WSU’s testing expansion, but have responded to the influx of students being referred by their medical providers for testing.
Mobile health care unit
The University’s Health Sciences campus in Spokane is working to dispatch the William A. Crosetto Mobile Health Care Unit to Pullman as soon as possible. Currently, the plan is to have the mobile unit set up by Wednesday of the coming week near the Greek Row area of College Hill and available to provide symptomatic, diagnostic testing for COVID-19.
The mobile health care unit is operated by Range Health, a nonprofit organization in partnership with WSU and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, as well as the colleges of Nursing and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. It’s designed to help bring healthcare services to rural and underserved areas of the state.
“This is exactly what the aim of Range Health has been from the beginning, to serve the health care access needs of the individuals and communities who need it most,” said Dr. John Tomkowiak, founding dean of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and chair of the board and ex officio director of Range Health. “We are honored to play an important role in the health and safety of WSU students, faculty and staff during this pandemic.”
Officials are working to rearrange its schedule to make room for a Pullman deployment from Wednesday through Friday of next week, which will provide a convenient testing site in advance of the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend.
It will be available for those who have been identified by Whitman County Public Health contact tracers as having been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, and advised to call their healthcare providers to determine if testing is necessary.
Cougar Health Services
Development of a dedicated standalone testing site alongside the student health clinic on the Pullman campus is continuing. Large tents on loan from the State of Washington are being erected on the east side of the Washington Building, which houses Cougar Health Services, and utilizing the building’s existing loading bays.
The fixed, standalone site is designed to keep COVID-19 testing contained to an easily controlled area rather than risking spread by using the permanent facilities that are still providing a full range of other health and medical needs daily.
Preparations are nearing the final stages. Regulatory requirements, work flow processes, and other issues are still being worked out and needed equipment and material being gathered and delivered. The goal is to have the site operational after Labor Day.
Like the mobile health clinic, the services being provided are for symptomatic, diagnostic testing and students will need a referral from their medical providers. For those enrolled on the Pullman campus, that referral can come from a telehealth appointment with Cougar Health Services. The first appointment in any semester is covered by student fees. Students are asked to call Cougar Health Services at 509-335-3575 to arrange for a telehealth appointment with a health care provider.
More details on both strategies will be coming soon and will continue to be shared broadly with the WSU community and others.
For more information about WSU’s response to the global pandemic please see the University’s COVID-19 website.