A South King Fire & Rescue firefighter places a used test swab into a secure vial on Nov. 18. The tests are transported from Federal Way to a Seattle lab for processing twice a day. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

A South King Fire & Rescue firefighter places a used test swab into a secure vial on Nov. 18. The tests are transported from Federal Way to a Seattle lab for processing twice a day. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Steep increase of visitors to Federal Way COVID-19 testing center

Federal Way location sees record high of 889 tests in a single day on Nov. 16.

Traffic moves steadily through the four tents of the Federal Way COVID-19 testing center site on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. Cars are filled with the next patients — some with evident nerves, others who note this is their third, or fourth, test.

There has been a recent uptick in visitors wanting to get tested for the virus at the Federal Way location, hitting a record high of 889 tests in a single day earlier this week on Nov. 16.

The site, located at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, is a county-provided resource allowing for free drive-through and walk-up deep nasopharyngeal swab tests. The Federal Way COVID-19 testing center has conducted more than 13,000 tests since opening on Oct 13.

Of those tests, there have been about 1,400 positive tests returned, for a positivity rate of about 12.7%, according to Gabriel Spitzer, communications specialist for Public Health — Seattle and King County.

“As cases grow exponentially, so does demand for testing, [and] expect the increases to get progressively larger each day until the outbreak is turned around,” Spitzer said.

More COVID-19 cases means more people with symptoms and more “close contacts” of COVID-positive cases, he said, both of which are categories of people who are advised to get a test as soon as possible.

Other factors for the spike of testing include increased travel and symptoms from other wintertime viruses, such as flu, he said.

Public Health is increasing staff and offering overtime at the Federal Way testing sites, along with other county testing sites in nearby cities, to meet the growing demand.

The amount of people coming for tests has “without a doubt” hit a steep increase in recent days, said South King Fire Lt. Greg Willett, who also serves as the Federal Way COVID-19 testing site supervisor.

“The need for that testing site is definitely increasing every day and especially because of the high positivity rate in our area,” he said. With holidays looming and holding the potential as superspreader events, Willett expects the testing rates will continue to rise.

Some people want to get tested due to possible exposure or worry of being an asymptomatic carrier. Others who he’s spoken with offer surprising reasons, Willett said, such as returning from a vacation in Mexico or preparing to embark on their pre-planned travels.

The test itself is uncomfortable: a long swab is inserted into both nasal cavities for 8 seconds each. The entire process takes about 20 seconds and may lead to a few tears.

Most say the anticipation is the worst part.

“We do all we can to make sure people are ready,” Willett said. “We prepare them by telling exactly what’s going to happen … we try to keep them calm and take away any apprehensions.”

As Willett arrives to the Federal Way site a couple of hours before officially opening for the day, he is often greeted with an already-forming line of awaiting patients. The site’s busiest times (in the morning as the site opens at 9:30 a.m. and just before it closes at 5:30 p.m.) have lines of cars snaking through the aquatic center parking and spilling onto SW Campus Drive.

As the lines of cars grow, so do the wait times — which can be confusing and frustrating for those looking to be on their way quickly.

When people have the option to pre-register online, the purpose is not to secure an appointment time, Willett said, but rather to spread out the amount of visitors at any given time. The site doesn’t turn anyone away, nor does it require prior registration.

Crowds initially drew from curiosity about testing and now are the result of more people who are actually sick or showing symptoms. With the addition of more staff and a fifth testing tent on the way, Willett said they are bracing for the winter months and the potential for new waves of the virus.

The Federal Way COVID-19 testing site is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 650 SW Campus Drive.


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Jordan Barrett of South King Fire administers a COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swab test in Federal Way on Nov. 18. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Jordan Barrett of South King Fire administers a COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swab test in Federal Way on Nov. 18. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Cars line up to enter the first tent at Federal Way’s testing site on Nov. 18. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Cars line up to enter the first tent at Federal Way’s testing site on Nov. 18. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Dozens of cars fill the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center parking lot on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Dozens of cars fill the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center parking lot on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Firefighter Blake Gillespie of South King Fire holds a swab before administering a COVID-19 test on Nov. 18. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Firefighter Blake Gillespie of South King Fire holds a swab before administering a COVID-19 test on Nov. 18. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

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