Mass testing to be free

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Posted on Apr 17 2020
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In an attempt to test more people, a drive-thru service for COVID-19 testing has been happening throughout the world and this could possibly be available at the Commonwealth Health Care Corp. late this month or early next month.

According to Esther Muña, CHCC chief executive officer, the drive-thru that could potentially happen will be able to test everyone in the CNMI but that will still take time.

“If we’re going to test about 50,000 people, that won’t happen quickly,” she said.

Testing for COVID-19 isn’t exactly like a pregnancy test where you get your results in five minutes. It will take some time since specimen will be collected first and then the results will take a little time to show up.

She did confirm that it is the intention to make mass testing be free.

“When there is a public health problem in our community, I want to make sure that an individual to feel free to come forward [and get tested],” said Muña. “We want to be able to protect our community.”

In the case of undocumented persons, Muña said that that’s a line she does not want to cross and her intention is to be sure that every individual will be comfortable enough to know that they won’t get reported if they are undocumented.

Since the CNMI submitted its first specimen for testing last Feb. 11, Muña made the decision not to charge anyone for coronavirus testing since it’s a “public health issue.”

Martin (not his real name), who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said that making the tests free and open to everyone “is a huge step since the testing itself will give people a peace of mind.”

“It’s great to know that one of the most frequently asked questions is answered, which is ‘Will the testing be free?’” he added.

“Saipan can slowly go back to normal and people can go outside with little to no fear and know that they won’t affect anyone,” added Joe (not his real name). “I also think that even if everyone does get tested, the community should still practice good hygiene and social distancing.”

In an earlier radio interview, Muña acknowledged that the test kits that recently arrived on Saipan aren’t U.S Food and Drug Administration-approved but pointed out these are not meant to be used in clinical care.

The test kits are Korea FDA-approved so it will serve the purpose of surveillance, and primarily for public health activities, including containment of the virus.

“It’s more power to the [Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.] to be able to determine that there’s a particular case and further protecting from further widespread of the virus in our community,” said Muña.

COVID-19 in Guam

Guam has had good news in the past few days. Its Department of Public Health and Social Service tested 30 people for COVID-19 last April 15 and all 30 tested negative.

The Guam Memorial Hospital Authority tested 13 individuals for COVID-19 last April 15 and all 13 also tested negative.

Guam still has 135 confirmed positive cases, six deaths, including a USS Theodore Roosevelt sailor, and 86 recoveries.

Justine Nauta
Justine Nauta is Saipan Tribune's community and health reporter and has covered a wide range of news beats, including the Northern Marianas College and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. She's currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services at NMC.
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