More free testing events scheduled as COVID-19 surge continues

LINCOLN COUNTY — Lincoln County Public Health will hold two free COVID-19 testing events later this month and hopes to hold such events weekly throughout the winter.

The Oregon Health Authority will supply the tests, and nonprofit Medical Teams International will provide staffing for drive-thru/walk-up testing events Dec. 23 in Lincoln City and Dec. 30 in Newport. Residents ages 5 and up from anywhere in the county can receive tests at either site, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

On Nov. 23, the county health department reported a low positivity rate from four days of testing events held earlier last month — only six positive results out of 1,140 tests. The same day, Public Health Director Rebecca Austen also alerted the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners to a surge in cases that has since led to the county’s imminent move to “extreme risk” and the announcement of the Lincoln County School District’s return to all-online learning in January. 

Health department Deputy Director Florence Pourtal told the board Monday the increase in positive cases has been “severe and rapid.” There were 67 new cases the first week of December and 68 the second, she said, more than during the whole month of November. November’s 123 case total is just less than August, September and October combined.

“What we’re seeing is workplace related and mostly social gatherings and household gatherings and Thanksgiving gatherings,” Pourtal said. She said the county now seemed to be catching up with statewide and national trends after having enjoyed a reprieve thanks to its relative isolation.

The deputy director said the health department implemented a three-phase surge plan for case investigations and contact tracing, bringing online more staff depending on the number of new cases per day. It has been able to keep up with the pace of infections so far, she said. According to the latest data available from the Oregon Health Authority, the health department began 95 percent of case investigations of positive results within 24 hours during the week ending Dec. 7. In previous weeks, it had maintained a rate of 95 percent or higher.

“With the holidays coming, even though a lot of people followed the recommendations for Thanksgiving and canceled their gathering plans,” Pourtal said, “there are still a lot of people who choose to take that risk, and we’re seeing the impact. So we’re anticipating that the increase is going to remain for some time.”

Those who want to participate in the upcoming free testing events must register at Each person who wants a test must be registered individually (so a single registration would not cover a full carload, Pourtal explained). The Dec. 23 event will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the St. Clair Fire Station in Taft. On Dec. 30, testing will take place during the same hours at the Lincoln County fairgrounds in Newport. Results should be available via the website within three to five days.

Pourtal told the board the health department was working to schedule more testing events in January, with the goal of weekly free testing through winter.