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Community COVID-19 Testing Events To Be Held In Billings, Livingston, Gardiner

Nurses test the public for asymptomatic cases of the COVID-19 illness at a mass surveillance testing event in Crow Agency May 27, 2020.
Nicky Ouellet
Yellowstone Public Radio
Nurses test the public for asymptomatic cases of the COVID-19 illness at a mass surveillance testing event in Crow Agency May 27, 2020.

Several Montana communities are offering free COVID-19 testing in coming days to check for undetected infections.

RiverStone Health in Billings will host a second drive-through COVID-19 testing event for people with and without COVID-19 symptoms. The event will take place at MetraPark on Saturday from 9:00 A.M. until noon, unless available tests run out beforehand.

A spokesperson told YPR that the nasal swabs will be sent to the state lab.

During the previous drive-through on June 20, three out of 463 tests came back positive for COVID-19.

Veterans enrolled in the Montana VA Health Care System are eligible for free COVID-19 testing in a second round of swabbing events in Glendive on July 14 and in Kalispell on July 13 and 14.

On Sunday, Park County residents who do not have COVID-19 symptoms or contact with known cases can go to the Livingston and Gardiner high school parking lots for free testing from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

The nasal swabs from the drive-through and walk-up visits will be sent to a private lab out of state. The county health department will notify anyone with a positive test in seven to ten days.

Park County has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 testing per-capita in Montana. Health Officer Dr. Laurel Desnick says around 1,000 people were swabbed last month during two testing events. The results all came back negative.

“It really is to give us a snapshot about disease activity in the county that we might be missing,” Desnick said. 

Desnick says all of the 16 lab-confirmed cases in Park County have been linked to people coming in from out of state to visit family and friends.

She says there aren’t any cases connected to the thousands of tourists who pass through on their way to or from Yellowstone National Park.

“The average length of a stay of a tourist in Yellowstone National Park is 1.8 days, and when someone’s family comes to visit, they stay for a week, and they’re at your dining room table, and they’re driving with you in the car, and they’re sitting out back around the campfire. Those are the settings where we’re really seeing the infection passing from person to person," Desnick said. 

Desnick expects more Park County residents will show up for the second round of community tests planned this weekend.

“We’ve had a slight increase in the number of cases in the county, and we just came through the big Fourth of July weekend. And we thought it would be a good time to reassess,” Desnick said. 

She says community testing will be offered again in August before school starts.

Community COVID-19 testing events have taken place on American Indian reservations, towns and cities across the state, including Big Sky, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Miles City, Missoula, Red Lodge, West Glacier and Whitefish.

The test only indicates if someone has the virus currently. It doesn’t show whether the person was previously infected.