With nearly $72,000 secured from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Union County Health Department went straight to work to ease county residents' concerns over continued spread of the COVID-19 virus.

After short notice via Facebook, the department set up a mobile testing unit in its parking lot off West South Street Thursday morning, May 21. Early returns were promising.

“I think it went fairly well for the first day,” confirmed Kim Klein, the county's registered nurse. “Now that we know people would like to get tested, we're hoping to put it on our website, advertise with different businesses and take some flyers around.”

Estimated count for the four-hour session was 19 people tested. Union County Health Officer Dr. Susan Bantz emphasized that the only true prerequisite to testing is being a resident of the county.

“We wanted to open this up for anybody, eliminate or remove all barriers for being tested,” said the physician. “In the past, we didn't have enough tests, so we limited it to people who fit certain criteria.”

“We had a bunch of stipulations at first and had a target population lined out, but then opened it up,” echoed Klein.

Union County was one of Indiana's rural communities becoming a grantee on May 7, in an announcement by Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch.

Governor Eric Holcomb signed an executive order in March to allow OCRA to redirect Community Development Block Grant funds to counties in need.

Grant money could be applied for testing resources, food pantry services, access to medical facilities, and small business job retention.

“Melissa Browning and the Union County Development Corporation thought it would be nice if we had a testing site, and I told her from our standpoint, we'd be more than happy to try to put one together,” Klein explained. “A grant writer asked for a testing site, personal protective equipment, and Wi-Fi hotspots around town. Really, it all came out of an interest by community members.”

UC was eventually awarded $81,750, from which $71,750 was taken for the testing site and PPE for local first responders; the remainder was used for internet access where needed. The total grant is reimbursable, as the county will cover expenses to be reimbursed by the state in a matter of weeks. A public hearing on the grant is set for June 5.

Meetings during the pandemic established such decisions as site location, grant accounting and the mobile lab crew. Klein leads a group consisting of Bantz, president of the UCHD board and school nurse Laurie West, her daughter and nursing student Alyssa West, and Alvin Day, public health coordinator.

This medical crew ensures the process remains quick and easy.

“They drive through and stay in their cars,” said Bantz. “We come to them and take a nasal swab. It's very quick. Depending on the number of people waiting, you can be in and out in five minutes.”

Klein added that “we just take a few demographics, find out symptoms and have them sign a form.”

Discharge instructions come in the form of a patient education letter composed by Bantz, advising those experiencing any symptoms to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days. Those tested will only be notified – within approximately 4-5 days — if a positive result is returned.
A courier takes all swab samples and forms to Reid Health after each testing day, and Reid sends them on to LabCorp for analysis.

In theory, the testing could continue well past the expected life of the grant.

“I was told it lasts for three months, although I think we have a year to satisfy the grant,” said Klein. “If we've reopened and have a huge resurgence of activity, then we could theoretically go as long the grant money holds out.”

“Especially as (society) is opening up again, we want people to have increased access to testing,” added Bantz. “There's a lot of anxiety, understandably, about it, so we're trying to give people peace of mind. If the virus does pop up again in the community, we want to be able to isolate it and squelch the spread.

“We hope people feel free to come. If you want one, get one.”

The mobile lab will continue to be available each Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. For more information, call 765-458-5393 or visit Union County Health Department on Facebook.