The Blue Ridge Health District will stop hosting drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinics this week, officials announced earlier this month.
The move is the latest shift for a health district that has spent the last two years in crisis mode but now is working toward a more sustainable response. The testing clinics are ending now because the funding that made them possible — federal COVID response funds and anonymous donations — is ending.
The district has provided free COVID-19 tests via drive-thru clinics regularly since April 2020. The health district has been aware that funding would run out this month and has worked to slowly reduce the frequency of the clinics.
“We saw that we were still able to meet the demand,” BRHD spokeswoman Kathryn Goodman said in an interview.
The district is still partnering with the Virginia-based lab, Next Molecular, to provide testing twice a week at the former JCPenney at the Fashion Square Mall in Charlottesville. The University of Virginia Medical Center also continues to offer its free testing events twice a week. For information about testing options in the community, go to vdh.virginia.gov/blue-ridge/covid-19-tjhd-testing-sites.
The BRHD clinics that are ending were held throughout the localities in the district: Charlottesville as well as the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson.
“We made this decision knowing that there are testing resources throughout the community,” Goodman said. “At-home test kits are much more widely available, and other providers are still offering PCR tests. So it’s not like the health department was the only test provider.”
Goodman said the district will monitor the demand for tests in July to determine whether to extend the partnership with Next Molecular
The health district has been a key provider of COVID tests in the area since the pandemic began in March 2022. When the drive-thru clinics started in April 2020, tests were difficult to access throughout the community and limited to certain groups of people, such as those who had COVID-19 symptoms.
BRHD was one of the first in the state to offer drive-thru clinics and has since administered 25,100 free PCR tests, according to the district. Funding provided by an anonymous donor in May 2020 allowed the district to hire a dedicated testing team of five people and increase access to testing.
Goodman said the district has come a long way since those first clinics.
“We used to have like 15-minute appointment slots, and now people get in and out in a couple of minutes — aside from lines of course — but our registration process and performing the test itself has become really quick and efficient,” she said. “We have grown tremendously, and our test team is a fantastic team that’s worked really hard over the past two years.”
The testing is ending, but the pandemic is not yet over.
“The community has grown so much over the past two years that there are other testing resources available where I believe it’s OK for us to pare back right now,” Goodman said. “We will assess and see how this goes. If there’s a large demand or if we see that the community is not able to get tested as needed, despite other resources, we will reevaluate and revisit and of course have to look into funding streams to see what’s available.”
Goodman said the health district is still committed to responding to the pandemic.
“We’re still going to be monitoring case numbers throughout the community, and requests and demand for different services related to COVID will still be on the top of our radar,” she said.
She encouraged those who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate themselves for five days and then wear a mask on days six through 10 of their infection.
“It’s not too late to get vaccinated, so whether you are eligible for a first dose or booster shot, you should get it,” she said. “That’s gonna help as we move forward with our COVID and living with COVID in our everyday lives.”
The health district and other healthcare providers in the area recently started providing the vaccine to children younger than 5 years old. For more information about the vaccine and appointments, go to vdh.virginia.gov/blue-ridge/covid-19-vaccination.