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Eastern Idaho facilities seeing big spike in COVID testing


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IDAHO FALLS — Local COVID-19 testing centers are seeing a surge in the number of people getting tested as the coronavirus and its variants continue to spread.

James Corbett, Community Health Division Director at Eastern Idaho Public Health, said testing started to increase in the region after Christmas, specifically on Dec. 27. From Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, there were 1,720 PCR tests conducted in the EIPH region, which was over 100 more than were performed the week prior. During that same timeframe, 1,012 antigen tests were reported positive among 9,592 tests. The week before only 358 antigen tests were reported positive among 8,180.

“More individuals are seeking testing as more illness is circulating in the community,” Corbett said. “If individuals can stay home when they’re ill, regardless of whether it’s COVID or something else, to help reduce the spread, that’s the best thing for us.”

Lori Leask, the manager of Express Lab, told that over the past week, they have seen a steady increase of ill community members being tested at all three of their locations.

“I’m averaging 450 to 500 (people) a day just coming through the Idaho Falls location, and I have multiple drive-thrus,” Leask said. “I hit 250 in Pocatello and 250 in Rexburg yesterday (Monday).”

Despite the spike in numbers, Leask said Express Lab can generally get people through the line and tested in about 20 to 30 minutes. She mentioned there’s not a specific age group workers have noticed who are getting tested more, adding that she’s seen everyone from children to senior citizens.

Express Lab doesn’t require appointments, and if a person doesn’t have an order from their doctor to get tested for COVID, Leask said she has multiple providers involved in offering orders. Right now at Express Lab, the antigen testing results usually come back the same day, and PCR tests generally take 24 to 48 hours, according to Leask.

At Just 4 Kids Urgent Care, which is a walk-in clinic, operations manager Stacey Pack said they also noticed a big jump in testing after Christmas. On average, they’re testing between 40 and 50 patients daily for COVID. Pack said they have seen some flu cases, but they are “definitely still seeing way more” COVID cases.

“I think a lot of it is because of family being together (and the virus spreading quickly),” Pack explained. “I feel like a lot of times after Christmas, even before COVID, that’s when flu would increase, so (now) it’s a virus showdown.”

Pack said the Idaho Falls clinic is typically busier than the Pocatello location, so the wait time might be longer. However, people don’t have to wait long for COVID test results as they come back within 20 minutes or less.

As COVID testing continues, Leask asks the community to be patient with healthcare workers.

“We’re being inundated with phone calls and everything else. People are anxious to get results back (and) they’re not feeling well, and we understand. Hang in there,” Leask said. “We’re working as fast as we can. Our goal is, and always has been, we want to be here to help take care of the public.”