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April 18th, 2021

fumc buildingFirst United Methodist Church in Liberal is the site of a free COVID-19 testing as part of a program in partnership with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

With COVID-19 still a big part of life, government leaders are pushing for people to get both tested and vaccinated.

Through a partnership with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, one local church is helping with testing for the virus.

Liberal’s First United Methodist Church is providing free COVID testing on a short-term basis. The church had its first testing this past Friday, and a second testing will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. this Friday at the church at 116 W. Third.

The testing is part of a pilot program being launched by KDHE in three locations across the state. FUMC Pastor Brad Bennett said the church found out about the opportunity when he was contacted via e-mail from the Great Plains Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, more specifically by the conference’s disaster relief organization.

“They are working in partnership with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to pilot these self-test programs to see if it’ll work well and if we could be a site,” he said.

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Bennett said several sites were contacted to see who would be willing to be part of the pilot program.

“My guess is they’re hoping there would be more churches or organizations come on board as a method of getting the tests out,” he said. “The general idea is to get all Kansans tested if at all possible.”

Testing is for both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. Those who wish to be tested will complete a simple registration form and receive a saliva self-test kit. These samples will be packaged, boxed and shipped to KDHE labs for testing.

Bennett said FUMC saw the program as a good opportunity because the tests people will get there are less invasive than others.

“It’s the saliva method, and it’s also something a single user could complete the test according to the instructions, put it in the shipping bag that’s provided with the label,” he said. “They have to go online and register that and ship it off. For now, it’s being handled through organizations to provide those.”

Up to six volunteers will be on hand at the church’s testing site, and Bennett said they do not have to be health care professionals or trained in any manner.

“The basic function of the volunteers is to assist the folks who come to receive a kit, and they complete it right here onsite,” he said. “Our function is primarily to make sure they understand what they’re doing and help them fill out the online form if they’re having trouble with that. We can assist with computer input. There’s no ID involved. It’s basically a very simple registration – name, address.”

Bennett said there is a possibility of more testing dates for FUMC.

“We will consider after these first two Fridays,” he said. “We committed to two Fridays in a row, 3 to 7 p.m., and for the pilot, that was important we have consistency on time and date. We would re-evaluate after next Friday and decide if we feel this is something we can handle and have enough volunteers to staff it. I don’t think it’s going to be real complicated.”

An initial 150 kits were supplied to the Liberal church for the testing.

“That was just a ballpark we agreed to with the KDHE to make sure we had sufficient kits,” Bennett said.

Bennett said kits not used for last Friday’s testing will be used this Friday, and if more are needed, they will be ordered.

Costs for the program are primarily being taken care of by KDHE, with some being paid by the Great Plains UMC conference.

Bennett said he is very enthusiastic about having the opportunity to take part in the pilot project.

“I was excited we might be able to make an impact on the ability to test folks in our community,” he said. “It’s been a slow process in my perception of things.”

In addition to having the less invasive tests, Bennett said being able to test people regardless of whether they exhibit symptoms of COVID is also an advantage to the FUMC test site.

“People without symptoms today, they find it more difficult to get tested unless they’ve been placed on a quarantine because of an association with someone, but generally, it’s not been open to people without symptoms as a rule,” he said. “It’s exciting for us to think more people could who don’t exhibit symptoms, and there’ll be some folks who are coming who are having some symptoms. We’re grateful for masks to wear, and the state provides those as well.”

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