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'It's just a chance I'm not willing to take': Mobile urgent care won't offer COVID-19 tests to holiday travelers

Table Rock Mobile Medicine says they will not offer COVID-19 tests to those planning to travel for the holidays.

BOISE, Idaho — If you're planning on getting a COVID-19 test before you head over the river and through the woods to get to grandma's house for the holidays, you may need to rethink your plans.

Some medical clinics in the Treasure Valley are refusing COVID-19 tests to those who want to make sure they are COVID-free before heading out of town for the holidays.

That includes Table Rock Mobile Medicine, a mobile urgent-care unit that makes house calls for things like the flu, step throat, and more recently, COVID-19.

They are now screening potential patients before making house calls after seeing a massive increase in requests for COVID-19 tests around Thanksgiving, and now Christmas.

"This morning, I got a booking for a big family and it said the reason for the visit (was) to go visit family for Christmas," Brad Bigford, a nurse practitioner, and owner of Table Rock Mobile Medicine said."We don't feel like that's appropriate because we want to see the people that need us and are sick and not just go around testing people so they can go see their grandmother."

Bigford said they were booked out three days in advance the week before Thanksgiving, then dropped off 25-50% the week after. They are now seeing a similar trend ahead of the Christmas holiday.

"We actually started telling people, 'No, this is not medically necessary,' because that's the big thing right? We're an urgent care so if people book us for a nurse practitioner to go to the home and it's just to go visit family and another person wants us to go see them and they're super sick and they can't get in, now all of a sudden it's the family that just wants to go to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is taking precedence over the person that can't breathe."

Bigford said it's not just about taking care away from others who may need it, but getting a negative COVID-19 test could provide a false sense of security.

"If you get a test, all the test is saying is COVID-19 detected or not," he said. "So if you get exposed yesterday, and you test today to go visit your grandma tomorrow, the test is going to say no, it's not detected, but you could still have the virus in your body and by the time you get to that party you could then start shedding it but you already had a negative test, so why would you take all these measures of distancing and not going indoors and not being in close contact and wearing a mask, why would you do that if you had a negative test?"

Bigford says there are other factors to consider, including the testing centers that are working to get quick results for the thousands of tests being conducted every day.

"I know the lab we use, Cole Diagnostics, they are cranking out hundreds and hundreds of tests every day and their test volume had blown up the week of Thanksgiving to the point that the owner, Dr. Cole, was sleeping at the lab on a couch every night so if there was a problem with the machines, he could fix it," he said. "(Dr. Cole) slept at his own lab for a week just to keep up with demand."

So before finalizing your holiday plans, Bigford suggests thinking about if potentially, albeit accidentally, spreading the virus is worth the quick trip.

"I think people have really good intentions, but when you start breaking it down, the plan and where the holes are, you know you're taking a chance with your high-risk family member that you don't have it, and you're going to get a false sense of security with a negative test, it's just a chance I'm not willing to take."

"The greatest risk right now of people contracting covid isn't the huge events, it's these smaller events with close extended families and friends indoors."

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