The Knox County Health Department is pursuing a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility.

Health officer Dr. Alan Stewart on Wednesday, during a regular meeting of the Knox County Health Board, said the health department has applied for a $100,000 state grant, money that would pay to open a drive-thru testing clinic at its main office, located at 305 S. Fifth St.

If the health department secures the funds — and Stewart is confident it will — an existing car port will be moved to the side of the building near an exterior door to provide a covering for the drive-thru clinic.

The money, too, would go to pay for computer upgrades, if necessary, as well as two or three part-time nurses to man the clinic.

State funding would also cover the necessary test swabs and the cost of a courier to take them to and from the nearest lab.

As per guidelines associated with the grant, the clinic would need to be open at least five days a week, Stewart explained, as well as some “non-traditional hours” and on weekends.

“Which is music to my ears,” Stewart said, “because that would be forcing us into something we’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

The clinic also would be combined with the existing immunization clinic there. So anyone who came through for COVID-19 testing would also be eligible to receive various vaccines regularly offered by the health department,

The money would pay for the clinic beginning Sept. 1 of this year and continue through the end of June, 2021.

The grant also asks that health departments select two community partners; Stewart said he reached out to officials with Good Samaritan Hospital and Vincennes University, both of which eagerly accepted the invitation.

The university and GSH wrote letters of support for the grant, Stewart said.

“And my hope would be that, later, this could lead to additional testing sites at those locations,” Stewart told the board. “It would be nice if we could have two more, but it would be later that we would make those adjustments.”

But just who would be eligible for this free testing?

Stewart said he isn’t clear on all the details just yet, but he expects he will able to issue a sweeping physicians’ order for anyone who wants a test at the drive-thru clinic.

But to narrow it down and not overwhelm staff, he’s likely to request phone-ahead screenings and, possibly, appointments.

“If not, I envision a line of cars six blocks long,” he said. “So I think we have to do screenings, at least initially.”

Stewart acknowledged that a lot of hard work is ahead, but he’s excited at the chance to do it.

“It’s a big undertaking,” he said, “but I’m eager to do this and maintain the health department as a major player in the county as far as healthcare goes.”

Stewart said the grant was submitted on Friday. The health department has already begun advertising for part-time nurses.

“So if we get the grant, which we anticipate we will, we can begin hiring and get going right away,” he said.

Stewart also told the board Wednesday that Knox County is still experiencing a “surge” in positive cases of COVID-19.

He received reports of three new cases on Wednesday, he said; four more patients were admitted to GSH for treatment.

As it stands now, Knox County has 33 active cases, including continued outbreaks at what Stewart has called a “major employer.”

There are five currently being treated in the hospital, and the 7-day infection rate is 11.9%, a number Stewart called “sky high.”

Knox County has seen a total of 135 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since late March.

Stewart continues to plead with people to wear masks when indoors and when social distancing isn’t possible. It’s the closest thing Indiana will get, he said, to a vaccine until an actual vaccine is available.

If 70% of the population would wear masks, he said, that’s equal to herd immunity.

“A mask is the poor man’s vaccine,” he said. “You won’t spread it. You won’t get it.”

And good hygiene and wearing masks is even more important now that area youngsters are headed back to the classroom.

The Vincennes Community School Corp. starts today with South Knox, North Knox and Vincennes Catholic Schools beginning next week.

“And if we continue to see community spread, it will not work,” Stewart said of in-person instruction.

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