Driving COVID-19 tests will return to State Fair Park in Yakima in anticipation of an increased need this winter, Yakima County health officials said on Wednesday.

Nathan Johnson, local emergency response coordinator for the Yakima Health District, said community sites in Yakima and Sunnyside that offer free COVID-19 testing are experiencing “extremely high levels” of testing. The Sunnyside Community Center site clears more than 200 tests a day, Johnson said at the county health board meeting on Wednesday, and the Yakima Valley College site clears “more than 600 tests a day.”

“With that and the anticipation of more testing to come as the October 18 vaccination mandate unfolds, and certainly as we move into cold and flu season and more and more people are showing symptoms and are keen to get tested to see if it’s flu or if it’s COVID, we anticipate a need to increase our testing capacity in Yakima County, ”Johnson said.

Another community testing site will help take the pressure off hospital emergency rooms and health care providers, Johnson said. People have been told not to go to the emergency room if they only need a COVID test.

“With that, we’re bringing a community drive-thru test site back to State Fair Park.… This will be in partnership with Columbia Safety, who will staff it,” Johnson said. “It will be a five-day (one week) operation and the goal is to open it no later than October 18.”

He said he would work with Columbia Safety, the University of Washington lab and State Fair Park to put the pieces together. Some employers have demanded a negative weekly COVID test result instead of a vaccine.

The Sunnyside and YVC sites will remain open. County health officials have adjusted the days and times for current testing sites to ensure that free COVID-19 testing is available seven days a week. The Sunnyside site at 1521 S. First St. is open from 9am. a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Yakima site at 810 S. 14th Ave. is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

Health board member Naila Duval wanted to make sure the State Fair Park drive-thru test site has at least one day with later hours. “I think it’s very important that there is a wide variety of moments,” she said.

Officials plan to have at least one evening option at State Fair Park, Johnson said, as well as a weekend day. “We expect this site to operate Sunday through Thursday” to provide coverage seven days a week in Yakima City, he added.

The community testing site added to State Fair Park will use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are used at current sites, Johnson said in response to a question from board of health member Dr Dave Atteberry . Board member Amanda McKinney also asked about the turnaround time for test results.

“They go to the University of Washington lab and we also use their courier service. We also get a pretty quick turnaround on these results,” Johnson said. “It’s a maximum of three days; it’s usually within two days, though.”

Andre Fresco, executive director of the health district, said officials are now planning what they will need to do to support the community during the colder months, as students return to school in person.

“We want to maintain an open community – that’s our goal,” he said.

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