CHARLESTON — Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, nearly 100 individuals were tested for COVID-19 in Charleston. The free testing program was targeting locals who fish, work in fish processing or have other associations with fishing.

The tests were conducted by a pair of doctors who work for the Centers for Disease Control and were in Oregon to assist Oregon Health Authority. OHA and CDC paid for the tests. Those that were tested will receive results via a phone call within the next week.

“(My boss) said 'hey, they’re having a test.' It was interesting. ... I’ve been wanting to know when it was going to happen in the area,” said Carl Stevens, who works at Oregon Seafood in Charleston. He described how the nasal swab felt for him, stating, “It was just a little discomfort just in the nasal area and back. That’s about it.”

Those working in the fishing industry were targeted for this testing in an effort to ensure the safety of this sector.

“The main reason is because they are a vital part of our food supply and also our economy. If there is an outbreak among the fishing workers industry then it disrupts the whole supply chain of seafood,” said Phillip Nel, emergency preparedness manager for Coos Health and Wellness, earlier this week.

For Nel, the biggest challenge of the two-day event, which was open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days, was getting the word out. The event was given the green light last Friday afternoon, putting the local public health agency in a tricky position given the three-day weekend for Memorial Day. The bulk of the work for getting the word out and setting things up had to be done on Tuesday.

“We set up the tent on Tuesday evening and yesterday we ran whatever tests we can,” said Nel on Thursday afternoon. “Then also we started calling people, different industry folks. Whoever we could get a name and number on. Some of my people in this area just walked around and knocked on doors and said hey, this is what we’re doing.”

Because this is the first event of its kind in the area, Nel hopes that all groups involved can learn from it and continue to do targeted testing going forward.

“We just keep going and learn from this experience. We’ve never, ever done this,” he said.

“I will be looking into doing other industry specific, the agricultural industry with not just the migrant agricultural workers but also seasonal and permanent ones and the farmer themselves. … So I would like to do that. And also forest products because again that’s part of our community. And potentially the hotel tourist and food industry. But again, that depends on how many tests I can obtain which is still the issue and of course the personnel and the market.”

Reporter Zachary Silva can be reached at 541-266-6036 or by email at


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