A look at the NRV’s COVID-19 response and testing sites

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)— In the New River Valley, we’re getting a first look at one of the COVID-19 testing sites that has been open for a week now.

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A spot in the parking lot of Blacksburg High School opened March 31. This week, officials started picking up their tools and trying them other places like the New River Valley Mall. They have not been at both locations on the same day yet.

Officials across the NRV said they were able to coordinate their efforts so quickly because they already know what it’s like to experience a community tragedy. April 16, 2007, the day of the Virginia Tech shooting, is one that has helped them join forces.

“Because of the tragedies we’ve experienced in the past, we know how to work with each other and that experience has been invaluable for us to make the test site here happen and to make everything that we’re doing to help the community happen,” said Michael Geary, the Montgomery County Emergency Services Coordinator.

Geary and other officials started coordinating efforts at the beginning of March to prepare for whatever might hit our community.

“Unfortunately, coming from tragedy, we have formed a really resilient community here in Montgomery County,” he said. “Our partners throughout public safety work together tirelessly whether it be responding to a pandemic or whether it be day-to-day emergencies.”

That’s why you’ll see law enforcement from Pulaski County to Giles County at NRV testing sites. It’s because they want to provide a safe place for the community to be tested.

“No one organization or agency is going to do this by themselves,” said New River Health District Director Dr. Noelle Bissell. “When you bring everybody together collectively, you can produce a lot better results and more meaningful results, and you can get things done.”

You can’t just drive up and get the test. You need to schedule a phone appointment ahead of time and be sure you meet the criteria to get a test, because resources are very limited. Bissell said that’s why you don’t see long lines of people waiting to get one.

“We don’t want people clogging the system who don’t need to be there and that’s the point of [the testing site],” she said.

Bissell urges everyone to stay home and follow good practices to also help keep first responders safe, as well as your neighbors.

“If you’re sick and you know you’re sick and you don’t really need to be going to the hospital, don’t call 9-1-1. If you are in respiratory distress, call 9-1-1,” Bissell said.

“Help us help you,” Geary said. “If it’s not a life-threatening emergency then hold off and we’ll figure out where to go from there, but we don’t want folks calling 9-1-1 for things that don’t require emergency services.”

Geary said the Montgomery County Public Health Taskforce meets every day, now virtually, and includes many officials outside of the county within the NRV, plus the two local hospitals.

Bissell said the NRV testing site has been located in Montgomery County because that’s where they are seeing the most cases for now. In case that changes, they've continued to look at other sites as time goes on. Those changes happen daily.

“If we found that we were having a major outbreak in one of our other localities, we could take this model and stand it up closer there where we would need to respond,” she said.

Bissell said they are now testing over a hundred people each day. She said it takes less than an hour for them to set up at a location.

Officials want to remind you to stay away from testing sites to keep things running as smoothly as possible. Law enforcement monitors all of the entrances to control who can and cannot enter.

The Virginia Department of Health hotline number to ask about testing is 540-267-8240.

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