Local physicians explore COVID testing for Vashon residents


The Vashon Island’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) has established a COVID Testing Steering Committee. The committee is exploring options for testing island residents for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Humans have no immunity and currently no medications are available. Vashon Island currently has no cases confirmed by Public Health – Seattle and King County (PHSKC), in contrast to the rest of King County.

“‘Diagnosis is the first step to treatment,’” said Dr. John Osborn, an ER physician at the Seattle Veterans Administration hospital and co-coordinator of the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). “To diagnose COVID, you have to test for it. If we can identify who is infected, we can better help those infected while also protecting our island community and our off-island communities from viral spread.”

The island’s COVID testing team includes Dr. Jim Bristow, retired pediatric cardiologist and former deputy director of the Joint Genome Institute at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab; Dr. Zach Miller, a retired Infectious Disease specialist; Dr. Ina Oppliger, a retired rheumatologist volunteering with Pierce County’s COVID program; and Dr. Bonny Olney, a family practice physician .

Work on coordinating Vashon response to the Covid virus began in early March. Vashon’s volunteer run Emergency Operations Center has been supporting the COVID testing team efforts.  Shawn Boesler, Logistics Section Chief is investigating resources needed to prepare for on-island testing. The COVID testing team, Vashon Emergency Operations Center and VashonBePrepared volunteers have been coordinating island assets, volunteers and services.

“Vashon Island still has time, but the clock is ticking,” Dr. Osborn added.  “We must move quickly, and we need to get this right if we are going to avoid what is happening in other parts of King County.”

The COVID testing team meets daily. Members are actively reaching out to labs, active COVID testing projects and programs, and to their personal contacts in the medical and science community in Puget Sound and nationwide.

Even as the infection and mortality numbers climb, testing options and availability are changing daily. If on-island testing moves forward, scarcity of testing kits, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as N95 facemasks and trained personnel are issues. The COVID testing team is exploring options that would require less PPE but those options must adhere to professional medical standards.

“From Wuhan and Italy we know this is a life or death situation,” Osborn said. “In the meantime, we ask that island residents – all of you – strictly adhere to public health recommendations including social distancing and hygiene. Public health measures are our one and only weapon in this war with the virus. Right now, we are losing that war and we must turn the tide. This is something all of us can do to protect our friends and family.”

Health care professionals including clinicians, nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists are encouraged to volunteer with the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps during the COVID-19 pandemic. To volunteer, please send your name, contact information and a brief description of your health care expertise and experience to:  mrc@vashonbeprepared.org.