Local hospital discusses expansion of taxing district, COVID-19 testing

WSU will collect wastewater samples as part of targeted screening testing

WSU+will+collect+wastewater+samples+to+detect+the+spread+of+COVID-19+on+campus+and+in+Pullman.

MEETING SCREENSHOT

WSU will collect wastewater samples to detect the spread of COVID-19 on campus and in Pullman.

ALISON PLUNKETT, Evergreen reporter

The Pullman Regional Hospital Board of Commissioners voted to explore expanding the hospital’s taxing district based on community input and discussed COVID-19 testing methods during their Jan. 6 meeting.

Board vice president Tricia Grantham said the strategic planning committee recommended the expansion to coincide with the boundaries of the Pullman and Palouse school districts. A measure about the expansion will be on the November general election ballot.

WSU is conducting COVID-19 arrival testing for students returning to Pullman, PRH CEO Scott Adams said. Testing will target WSU students living in university-owned housing, students living off-campus who access campus facilities and WSU faculty and staff. Arrival testing will also focus on individuals who are visiting campus for academic, research or administrative purposes.

Adams said WSU Health Sciences Spokane students and staff working in clinical programs or research will undergo arrival testing as well.

“In this section of the arrival testing, toward the end of it, they lay out the voluntary arrival screening testing, which they encourage all who don’t fall under the umbrella of the previously described groups to participate in,” he said.

To make COVID-19 testing accessible for WSU students, the university offers the tests for free, Adams said.

Symptomatic people and those with verified exposure to the virus will be tested by Whitman County Health Department staff, he said.

“If [WSU] can have students isolate in residence halls, then that will be their first choice,” Adams said. “If that’s not possible, then the county and the university have arranged for other off-campus options for quarantine and self-isolation.”

Adams said WSU will conduct targeted screening testing by collecting wastewater samples. The samples will be used to detect the spread of the virus on campus and in Pullman.

WSU Environmental Health and Safety will train Pullman School District staff in collecting sewage samples. The samples will be sent to WSU’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, according to a wastewater surveillance document presented during the meeting. 

“Because [WSU] felt that their plan for students returning was going to capture a significant majority of students within the net of their plan, they really felt that a surveillance testing effort in the broader community, not just on campus, would help to understand the disease [and] manage its potential spread,” Adams said.

Sample processing began Jan. 4 and will continue until June 30, according to the document.

Adams said the Whitman County Health Department received CARES Act funding and provided PRH a $250,000 grant for COVID-19 testing.

The Board of Commissioners’ next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 3. It will be conducted over Zoom and will be open to the public.

*Editor’s note: This story has been edited from its original version. The Board of Commissioners voted to explore expanding the hospital’s taxing district, not include it on the November general election ballot.