Gov. Kate Brown tours U of O's COVID-19 testing facilities
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown toured the University of Oregon’s COVID-19 testing operation in Eugene, Friday.
The facility processes and tests saliva samples from K-12 students. Field Coordinator Katelyn Lewis explained to the governor how schools work with her team.
“Once they register through us and OHA (Oregon Health Authority), we get them started with their welcome kits. Everything that they need to do the testing is in these blue bins including shipping materials,” explained Lewis.
By executive director Brian Fox's account, 15-20 staff work at the COVID-19 testing facility on campus, with "armies of students" helping, as well.
Gov. Brown calls the facility a “game changer” in that it will enable the testing of thousands of Oregon schoolkids. She examined a testing kit up close during her tour.
“'Spit to red line.' I dunno, that looks like a lot of spit," she joked as others laughed. "Assuming some of these kids can really put it out, so…how fun for them.”
Administrators say they can process up to 10,000 tests a day. Currently they are processing 5,000 a week.
The Oregon Health Authority’s also asked the U of O’s COVID-19 testing operation to expand into southern and eastern Oregon.
Gov. Brown struck a hopeful chord about COVID-19 testing and schools during her tour of the university's processing site and laboratory that handle test kits for schools across six counties.
She told reporters this is a “watershed” moment for her push to get kids back into class.
“We know that students learn best in the classroom when they have the emotional and social and educational supports that they need.
"Our children were truly suffering, so my goal has been to get them back into the classroom with as minimal disruption as possible. And the work that is happening here on the University of Oregon campus is enabling that to happen, safely.”
COVID-19 cases have overall declined in recent weeks. But many families remain wary, as increasingly colder weather means more time spent indoors.
Pfizer is awaiting FDA approval for its vaccine for kids 5 to 11 years old, which would have a significant impact for schools.
The university’s Interim Vice President for Research and Innovation, Cass Mosely showed the governor a map that shows where their test kits are distributed by county.
"University of Oregon is serving Regions 3 and 5, which is the Lane, Douglas, Coos, Curry, and then Josephine and Jackson," said Mosely.
"And then OHA just asked us to expand into Region 7. Which is basically from Bend south, and then east to the Harney-Malheur- border. Testing kits go out to the schools that opt into the program. With our couriers every week, we swap them out.”
While excited for the expansion, Brown and administrators agreed that testing is just part of the “swiss cheese” strategy; social distancing, masks, and especially vaccines are seen as key to reigning in COVID-19.
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