City of Seattle Launches Mobile Assessment Teams to Test City’s Most Vulnerable to COVID-19

Expands first responder testing site to include frontline shelter staff and City employees 

Seattle (April 28, 2020) – Building on the landmark first-in-the-nation first responder testing facility, administered by first responders, Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins announced today that the City has created and deployed two Mobile Assessment Teams to test our most vulnerable, primarily focusing on senior and long-term care establishments at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis. Recently, the City has also added capacity at the first responder testing site to test frontline city employees and workers from other high-risk facilities, including shelters for people experiencing homelessness.  

“With our limited testing capacity, I’ve advocated prioritizing testing for our most vulnerable residents, the people who care for them, and our first responders who are hard at work protecting us,” said Mayor Durkan. “In Washington and across the country, we know that long term care facilities have been at the epicenter of COVID-19 with tens of thousands of cases of residents and workers. Because of the innovative thinking of Chief Scoggins and his team, we are now deploying our first responders to address an urgent public health need. Testing our residents and workers most susceptible to COVID-19 exposure is an important step to help slow the virus that has left its devastating mark on seniors and the most vulnerable around the world.” 

“In Seattle, nearly half of COVID-related deaths have been associated with long-term care facilities and over 90% of deaths have been individuals who are older than 60. By implementing the Mobile Assessment Teams, we can utilize our trained paramedics and EMTs to test patients and staff at our most vulnerable facilities to help slow the transmission of this disease,” said Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.  

“Through making a concerted effort to test staff and patients at long-term care facilities, we are helping implement one of Public Health’s priorities focusing on settings like long-term care facilities where people live closely together,” said Seattle Fire Department’s Medical Director Dr. Michael Sayre. “Deploying Mobile Assessment Teams helps us expedite our efforts of providing timely test results, so facility personnel can make informed decisions to isolate patients from each other and to stay home themselves when necessary.” 

Testing is a critical component to slow the spread of COVID-19 because it allows individuals to self- isolate and limit their exposure to others. As recent reports have highlighted, the virus has disproportionately impacted long-term care facilities, which include skilled nursing facilities, adult family homes, and assisted living facilities. The Mobile Assessment Teams which began operating on April 14 allows the City to send Seattle Fire Department (SFD) resources into these facilities where there are known COVID cases to test the staff and patients. 

Each Mobile Assessment Team is comprised of three SFD paramedics or EMTs. The department currently has a pool of approximately 20 personnel to utilize for testing. The facilities tested are determined in consultation with Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC). Each team has the ability to test up to 120 individuals per day. 

Long-term care facilities have experienced the most significant proportion of COVID-19 cases. In Seattle, even with the limited testing resources available, nearly 15% of all long-term care facilities have reported active COVID-19 cases. Thus far, the Teams have been deployed to three long-term care facilities, testing more than 500 individuals. Seattle Fire Department is scheduled to deploy to at least six new locations soon, and the Mobile Assessment Teams will evaluate the expansion of testing to serve the critical testing needs of high-risk populations. Access to testing kits remains the biggest challenge to tracing the level of COVID-19 in the community. 

In March, Mayor Durkan and Chief Scoggins launched the nation’s first COVID-19 testing site, for first responders, administered by first responders, Councilmember Lisa Herbold, District 1 (West Seattle/South Park) has been a strong supporter of this pilot program. While the program started testing SFD and Seattle Police Department personnel it has expanded to test first responders across the region. To date, 412 individuals have been tested with eight percent of those (33) testing positive for COVID-19. Based on the early success of this pilot, the department has further expanded testing capacity to include health care workers, and staff at high-risk facilities including shelters. This augments the work of health care and community partners at PHSKC, Neighborcare, University of Washington, Swedish, and Kaiser who are testing individuals at other high-risk facilities including testing at day centers and shelters throughout the City and County.