News & Features

Community Testing Event Draws More Than 2,000 on Flathead Indian Reservation

Free COVID-19 testing held from June 17-20, completed first round of state’s tribal community testing

Any questions about public interest in a four-day COVID-19 testing event held in Lake County last week were answered on the first day, June 17, when nearly 500 people showed up in Arlee.

Then more than 1,000 came to receive the free testing on the second day in Pablo, which Rob McDonald, a spokesperson for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), said was just short of the highest one-day total for a testing event in Montana.

Cars then filled a middle school and adjacent church parking lot in Polson on June 19, only to have the day cut short due to concerns over a lightning and rain storm. Still, more than 500 people were tested.

The event’s last day brought almost 500 more to a testing site in Elmo, raising the four-day preliminary tally to about 2,500 people of all ages and backgrounds. Nonresident visitors were also welcomed, McDonald said.

“No one was turned away,” he said. “We captured the community during this testing event, tribal and nontribal. There was definitely a strong showing.”

“Chatting with people in line, they pretty consistently said they were doing it not out of fear but to do their part to protect their community and to protect their household,” he added.

Donna Terry undergoes a nasal swab at a free drive-through COVID-19 testing event at Polson High School on June 19, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Lake County-CSKT Unified Command Center organized the community testing, which will provide a snapshot of COVID-19 in the area. Results will take about a week.

The effort was held in accordance with Gov. Steve Bullock’s efforts to boost testing in Montana to 60,000 completed tests per month and to partner with tribal communities to perform enhanced surveillance testing.

The Flathead Indian Reservation testing marked the completion of the first round of COVID-19 community testing in all of Montana’s tribal communities. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services provided the testing supplies, while the Montana National Guard transported the samples.

Bullock visited the Pablo testing site last week.

“I am grateful to all of Montana’s tribes for their partnership as we move forward together in the fight against COVID-19,” the governor said on June 18. “The virus is still here with us and as we learn to live in a new normal with social distancing and continued precautions, enhanced testing is an important tool in helping us find new cases early to limit the spread.”

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