Swabbing my nostril for science: County offers COVID testing for area residents

In my lifetime, my body has been prodded, pinched and poked with needles of all sizes. I have been on the other end of taser and tear-gas training. I flew in Army helicopters over Afghanistan and fought wildland fires on both engine and Helitack crews when I was much, much younger.

Now, in my latest quest to know more about the subject, I relented to have a nostril swabbed for coronavirus.

What turned out to be quick drive to the Churchill County Fairgrounds for a few quotes an photographs resulted in me having my nostril swabbed for the virus. My first point of contact was Shannon Ernst, the county’s director of Social Services. Her light-touch armtwisting worked just like it did when the former 485th Military Police Co., of the Nevada Army National Guard “persuaded” me in 2008 to experience their taser and pepper spray (“OC” oleoresin capsicum) training so I would have a much better understanding of what each soldier encountered.

Trust me: the taser and OC training were much worse.

For the next seven weeks, Churchill County residents, or individuals who live outside the county but work here are also eligible for drive-by testing to check if they have coronavirus but not the antibody.

The random community testing uses the county’s three commission districts for relying on volunteers. Upon arrival at the fairgrounds, a city of Fallon employee stopped me with the intent to send me to the registration table. Since I drove to the fairgrounds on business, Ernst, the county’s director of Social Services and her daughter Jordan Ernst drove me to the entry point in a golf cart.

Today, Ernst and other people from the county’s facilities and grounds, juvenile probation office, the Community Health Nursing office and the city of Fallon weren’t busy with residents seeking testing; consequently, they sent out notices for social media and the newspaper to ask for drop-in volunteers.

“We think people are waiting for the antibody test, but we don’t know if we’ll get that,” Ernst said.

The antibody test can detect who has had the virus. Nevertheless, Ernst said more residents should take advantage of the free testing to check if they have COVID.

“I’m surprised more are not taking advantage,” she said. “I can’t believe it. It’s a huge surprise.”

At the next step, an intake person asks a series of questions dealing with symptoms identified with COVID. Unfortunately, many symptoms are also associated with other illnesses or allergies.

Jackee Stewart with Social Services accompanied Ernst and me to the drive-through area, five lanes to accommodate the swab testing. The shelter for livestock shows serves as an idea cover for the vehicles and passengers. Stewart then asked me two dozen questions: Do I have a fever, coughing, sore throat, chills, aches, tiredness, headache and so on. Ernst said the screening also reveals symptoms people recognize.

The two nursing professionals who took the questions from Stewart were Banner Churchill Community Hosptial's Raylene Stiehl, a registered nurse, and Angelina Irby, a certified nursing assistant. Next, Stiehl digitally takes the patient’s temperature, and I had 97.4, well within the average. Irby reviews the intake sheet, ensures I have a consent form filled out and signed and verifies specific information such as name and birthdate.

Next, Stiehl gripped a long swab … longer than the Q-Tips we all know, and because I’m much taller, I crouched a little while Stiehl twirled the swab up one nostril for 10 seconds. The insertion of the swab doesn’t hurt, but the annoying twirling action does cause some tickling… like a small insect buzzing inside the nostril with wings fluttering.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends just one nostril, but at other facilities, they use two swabs for each nostril,” Stiehl said.

One swab stick is good enough, thank you.

Ernst said testing volunteers will receive a call whether they test negative or positive. A staff employee calls with negative results, but either Ernst or County Manager Jim Barbee notify the residents with information on positive results. If the test result comes back positive, Ernst said the testing advances to the second stage of contact tracing a person’s prior locations and with whom he or she may have come in contact.

Each station packages the swabs in an individual container, and another staff member takes them to one of the fairground's buildings that has a refrigerator. Before a courier drives the swabs to a state laboratory in Reno, Jordan Ernst, who will begin her nursing program later this year at Truckee Meadows Community College, counts each package and places them in a cooler.

Today’s count reached 53. Shannon Ernst reaches into the refrigerator and pulls out several packs to place into the cooler to keep the samples cold.

Once the state receives the samples, Ernst said the county will learn of the results within three to four working days and then begin calling those who tested.

(FYI: My result was negative.)

Ernst said the county developed a system that has run smoothly since the first test was taken May 7. The county developed a plan showing the setup of the in-take and testing areas and sent the proposal to the state. The state responded by sending Churchill County test samples. Ernst said the medical staff can test the driver or all the passengers in a vehicle as long as they are pre-registered.

“Our goal is to get 10% of the population tested,” Ernst said.

Ernst also encourages Naval Air Station Fallon sailors and their families to test, and she said tribal members from the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe can also pre-register for an appointment.


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