Free COVID-19, flu testing extended

Free testing once a week on the corner of First Street and Randolph Street for COVID-19, Influenza A and B and RSV, has been extended past its original end date of March 31, and will occur Wednesdays instead of Fridays starting April 1. 

The testing is open to all community members and occurs from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 

The current end date of the free testing is unknown but will likely continue into the month of June, said Nanda Nunnelly, the owner and lab director for NextGen Diagnostic Services. NextGen is a mobile COVID collection company that conducts the testing using funding from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. 

NextGen has been conducting the testing since April 2021, Nunnelly said. They work with local health departments at their seven locations across the state, including Kirksville. A team of NextGen nurses will travel to different locations throughout the week. 

According to NextGen, from November 11 to March 17, there have been 131 people tested. Of those, 13 were COVID-positive, one was inconclusive and two were Influenza A positive.

The Adair County Health Department assisted in finding a location and advertising to reach Truman State University students, said Jim LeBaron, Adair County Health Department administrator.

“I would just say with anybody, if you’re ill, I think it’s important to get tested because you don’t want to spread it to others, especially to people that do have underlying health issues,” said Lori Guffey, assistant administration of the health department. “It’s better to know – that way you can take the necessary precautions.”

Nunnelly said there was a pretty mild COVID season this year compared to last year. They haven’t had large numbers of people get tested but know the testing is valuable to people who otherwise wouldn’t have free testing in their area. 

“I think it’s important for Kirksville and just about any of the communities we serve simply because it is free testing,” Nunnelly said. “There is no requirements as far as residency, citizenship, anything like that … ”

LeBaron said he thought the testing was helping the community, and they see about six or seven people get tested a day.

Out of the people visiting, typically half are positive, which is why they wanted to keep offering the opportunity for people to get tested, LeBaron said. 

However, LeBaron and Guffey said they have seen a lot of vaccine fatigue in the area, meaning people aren’t getting the vaccine, are tired of talking and thinking about COVID and just want to get back to “normal life.”

Guffey said she didn’t think many students were getting tested. 

“They already have [gotten COVID], and they are a young population,” Guffey said. “They don’t have a lot of co-morbidities. They’re not concerned about their health like the older population … it’s not their priority.”

LeBaron said he thinks students know about the testing, but that maybe not many students are getting tested because they don’t want to miss class, despite Zoom being a more common option. 

Students are driving by the testing but aren’t stopping to get tested, Lebaron said. 

“I think, though, as the virus has progressed, its symptoms are less severe … they may think well it’s just a cold or I’ve got seasonal allergies so it’s just not on their radar that they could have COVID,” Guffey said.

Senior Mutiara Schlanker has been in a group project working to promote the service as part of their health science capstone. 

The capstone group has done tabling both on and off campus, hung up posters, prepared a Zoom webinar and created an Instagram page. 

Schlanker said she thought more people are aware of the testing site now. The goal of their project is not necessarily that testing would increase, but that more people would know about the resource as an option. 

Schlanker said it’s possible the testing site being open once a week could also be a reason students don’t get tested. If they get sick early in the week, they might choose to get tested elsewhere/sooner rather than waiting for the testing site to open on Friday. 

People can pre-register for the testing online but it’s not required, Nunnelly said. 

When the emergency status for COVID is lifted, which is expected to occur during May 2023, NextGen’s testing will remain free because of state funding, Nunnelly said.