UPDATED -- 3:40 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2
Three Kansas churches in the Great Plains Conference will host testing for coronavirus in a pilot program beginning this week, the conference and Kansas Department of Health and Environment have announced.
The sites and hours:
The Rev. Hollie Tapley, disaster response coordinator, said to her knowledge this is the first time churches will be used for testing.
“It’s our mission. It’s being our calling. That’s exactly what it is,” said Tapley, who has been on twice-daily phone calls with the Kansas Department of Emergency Management for the past 11 months. “I talk all the time about ‘being the church’ by any means that we can and this is one of those means.”
This is also the first time the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is working with a religious organization, Tapley said. Salina Church of the Cross UMC was a site for drive-in testing in December.
“They know we’re trustworthy. They know we’re going to do things right, and vice versa,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to provide free testing at our locations, and it’s great to provide a lot of our congregations to use their gifts and graces to volunteer.”
KDHE spokeswoman Ashley Jones-Wisner said the relationship with Tapley led to the partnership.
"KDHE was excited to partner with UMC to explore a new model for leveraging trusted, faith-based networks to expand access to testing across the state," Jones-Wisner wrote in an email. "KDHE believes this model can complement existing testing offerings by improving geographic coverage and expanding access for hard-to-reach populations."
There will be 100 to 150 tests available at each site each week, Tapley said. The free tests are available with no appointment and no referrals and require no COVID symptoms and no insurance. The polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test requires the subject to enter their saliva into a tube. Results are expected two to three business days following the test.
Volunteers from each church each of the first three churches already have been secured.
The locations were chosen, Tapley said, after KDHE compared the sites of Great Plains church locations and sites where testing was needed. Others may be added, she said.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. praised Tapley’s work securing testing sites in Kansas.
“Hollie has been on the phone since March or February (2020) with the disaster coordinators, with the state and local health officials, county health officials, getting information,” the bishop said.
Adding the testing sites, he said, is a continuation of the church’s mission.
“Our churches have responded to the coronavirus in amazing ways — everything from providing PPE, personal protection equipment, to lunches and dinners for our medical staff and workers,” he said. “Throughout this whole pandemic, they have been looking for ways to support those that are caring for the patients, and at the same time stopping the spread of the virus.
“I’m excited about this next phase, to join in efforts to create more testing sites, more people, so they can get earlier treatment, and also relieve some of the backlogs that may be happening in other places,” Bishop Saenz added. “I’m proud of our churches for doing that.”
Bishop Saenz said that if the situation were to arise, churches could be used to host vaccination sites.
“A lot of our churches have space during the week that can be used for the community,” he said. “Any time our churches can step into that role, as partners with other community efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, that’s part of our mission.”
Jones-Wisner said KDHE hopes to continue the partnership.
"UMC has been a wonderful partner in this effort," she said. "Following the two-week pilot, KDHE and UMC will jointly assess the success of the pilot testing program. If successful, we anticipate expanding the program to additional UMC locations across the state. The pace and scale of this expansion remains to be determined."
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