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New COVID-19 testing facility opens in Ashland

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Tez Allen, left, Nathan Powell and Lauren Lewis prepare a new COVID testing facility off Siskiyou in Ashland on Thursday.

Willamette Valley Toxicology opened a new COVID-19 testing site Sunday in Ashland, marking the company’s first satellite expansion out of Corvallis.

The company is accredited by the College of American Pathologists and approved by Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments.

WVT is approaching one year of COVID-19 testing as one of the highest capacity testing labs in the state, said CEO Manny Cruz.

“Here in Corvallis, a lot of people just don’t necessarily feel like testing is available, or ‘I don’t know where to get a test,’” Cruz said, referencing attitudes from several months ago.

Some people are turned away by perceptions of the intensity of the test — a swab up the nose that tickles the eyeballs, he continued. WVT offers self-administered nasal swabs, which are just as accurate as samples collected by health care workers, according to a Stanford University study.

Cruz said in Corvallis, fielding a high number of symptomatic people in the lab became concerning and unsustainable early on in the pandemic, leading to partnerships with the Oregon Health Authority on drive-thru operations.

Cruz said the success he witnessed in Corvallis led to branching out in Southern Oregon, including the new Ashland testing location at 611 Siskiyou Blvd. Suite 8, next to Safeway.

In the Rogue Valley, Cruz envisions opportunities to offer testing for softball tournaments, youth sports, workplace testing and more, depending on what Jackson and Josephine counties indicate as priorities, he said. WVT has processed more than 11,000 tests for Oregon State University athletics to date, he said.

Gold-standard PCR test results are generally returned the same day, Cruz said. WVT does not offer “rapid” or antigen tests.

Cruz said he identified rental locations available as testing sites that sit unoccupied due to the widespread prevalence of working from home. Planned WVT testing locations include Albany and Portland.

“Piggy-backing off the regional success of the lab, we’re going to try to pop this up everywhere we can,” Cruz said. “If herd immunity happens on April 5 and we know the pandemic is done, I have complete confidence to give the landlord 30 days notice and figure out what to do next.”

The Corvallis lab can handle 4,000-5,000 samples per day, Cruz said. For the Ashland site, testing is limited to four people per vehicle, adding up to 120 samples per hour at max capacity. Tests are overnighted via UPS every day to Corvallis, he said.

Site opening in Ashland includes outreach to identify community needs, said Ashland site manager Nathaniel Powell.

“Businesses, individuals, people traveling, sports teams, local organizations, nonprofits — we’re able to accommodate whoever might need our services,” Powell said. “I want to see our community be healthy and be able to move forward with confidence and protect each other.”

No upfront costs incur for people with insurance. Uninsured people can obtain a test and WVT will bill the state, or people can pay $100 out of pocket without billing insurance, he said.

More information can be found at www.wvtlab.com, or by contacting the main laboratory at 541-368-3050.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.