ECHO Clinic tests 100 frontline employees for COVID-19
By Samantha Jones
As the founders of ECHO Clinic, Dr. Dan Bell and Suzie Bell are well-versed on the needs of the community. That’s why they led the effort to bring more COVID-19 testing to Carroll County, testing 100 frontline employees in Eureka Springs, Holiday Island and Berryville last week.
Suzie Bell said she became concerned about the lack of testing after Arkansas prison parolee Jad Perkins was released without being tested and brought the virus to Carroll County in May. She said that situation “left the whole area in a lurch where there was a lot of exposure” but not a lot of means to get tested for the virus.
“So I have been calling the governor’s office every single day saying, ‘You guys need to give us tests. You need to give us tests,’ ” Suzie Bell said. “The health department didn’t really want to release them. Something finally broke or they got tired of hearing from us, so they gave us 100 tests.”
Dan Bell said the Arkansas Department of Corrections changed its testing policy after Perkins was released without being tested. He said inmates are now tested for COVID-19 before their release.
“I found them responsive to our request,” Dan Bell said. “I had been trying to persuade them to do a wide screening of the community after the Perkins thing, but they thought we were low-yield. We missed the boat.”
After seeing so many people in Eureka Springs over Memorial Day weekend, Dan Bell said, he and Suzie Bell knew they had to keep asking for tests.
“Memorial weekend was insane,” Suzie Bell said. “People were not practicing social distancing, so we felt like it was important to give people peace of mind and to check, because we’re being very vulnerable out here.”
“People were coming from all over the area to visit us,” Dan Bell added. “They were in the shops and restaurants. No one was wearing a mask. It was clear there’s a risk to the community.”
Suzie Bell said Northwest Arkansas is now leading the nation in the rate of increase of COVID-19.
“We are a small community and this is why I kept telling the governor’s office that we need the tests,” Suzie Bell said. “It was their decision to open our state. We are dependent on tourism, so they’re leaving us vulnerable.”
She continued, “They need to support us and give us the means to try to take care of this. If we’re going to do this as safely as we can, that means we have got to have testing and we have to have contact tracing.”
Suzie Bell said ECHO Clinic volunteers tested frontline employees at Harts Family Center, Sunfest Market, Acord Home Center, Smith Drug & Company, Sparky’s Roadhouse Cafe, the Eureka Springs Police Department, Eureka Springs Hospital, Dr. Ken Covington’s office and the cities of Eureka Springs and Berryville.
“There were some businesses that chose not to participate and that was disappointing, but it’s their choice,” Suzie Bell said.
Suzie Bell acknowledged that the test is “uncomfortable,” describing how participants have both sides of their nose swabbed very high up. Then the nasal swab is placed into a test tube, she said, which is placed in a bag with the information of the person being tested. That bag goes to the health department, Suzie Bell said, and they run the tests.
“We have everybody’s phone number,” she said, “so we can call them to say they are positive or negative.”
Suzie Bell said Dr. Greg Kresse, John Hutchcroft and Laura Covington helped with the testing. Kresse, who retired from medicine earlier this year, said he tested 25 people at the Eureka Springs Police Department, Sparky’s Roadhouse Cafe and a few other places.
“I swabbed people that were interested in having that test done,” Kresse said. “Everybody was basically asymptomatic.”
Kresse said he’s concerned that people aren’t taking the virus seriously.
“A lot of people don’t believe it’s a real thing, because there’s a lot of mistrust of science and it’s easier to believe it’s not real,” Kresse said, “and they’ve gotten mixed messages from the national government.”
There’s little consistency when it comes to protocol that would prevent the spread of the virus, Kresse said.
“You can go in one store and everybody’s got a mask on and is being careful,” Kresse said. “Then you can go to another store and everybody’s elbow-to-elbow and not wearing masks.”
Jay Galyen, general manager of Harts, said he appreciates the opportunity to get his employees tested. Galyen said Harts has taken the virus seriously from the beginning.
“We don’t want to spread it to anyone. We want to do our part and we’re trying to do the best we can,” Galyen said, “and this is just part of it. We have to be working together, and Dan and Suzie Bell have always been proactive in the healthcare field. We’ve always supported them … because they’re looking out for us, just like we try to look out for our customers.”
Celeste F., an employee at Smith Drug & Company, said she’s thankful for the test.
“It helps give me peace of mind that I am not infecting other people,” she said. “We deal with a lot of the elderly population. It gives me peace of mind helping them, because I’m out there front and center.”
Dr. Ken Covington said his office still isn’t working at full capacity, and that’s why the tests are so important.
“I appreciate the fact that [Suzie Bell] was persistent with the state to get those 100 tests allotted for us,” Covington said. “It’ll give us a better baseline for where we are.”
Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry said the tests are invaluable to the community.
“It’s to establish a database. The more people we can test, the better off we’ll be,” Berry said. “We want to make sure we’re not carrying the virus and we also want to make sure that people aren’t transmitting it to us.”
Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney agreed, saying everyone at Berryville City Hall is practicing safety precautions.
“With the reopening of some of our facilities and more contact with the public,” McKinney said, “we wanted to get tested to be safe.”
Suzie Bell emphasized the importance of contact tracing, the process of contacting everybody a COVID-19 patient comes in contact with.
“You can imagine what that would look like, especially if you worked in the public,” Suzie Bell said. “Say you’re a trolley driver. How could you possibly contact all those people you have been around? It’s tough, but we have to have some means to try to reach as many people as we can because that’s how you stop this disease.”
She continued, “If somebody is positive, then you have to really get to their circle of contact immediately and get them tested and shut them down so they’re not going out infecting other people. This is taking care of your community. This is just what that looks like. You have to be proactive.”
One hundred tests aren’t enough, Kresse said, but it’s a way for the community to start tracking the virus better. Kresse said the test results should be available sometime this week.
“The rates are rising significantly and I’m concerned,” Kresse said. “It’s a concern everywhere. People don’t realize you can be 40 years old and seriously ill on a ventilator.”
Dan Bell said ECHO’s initiative to test locals should be seen as a model for every community as they reopen.
“Testing needs to be done for these people that are asymptomatic,” he said. “You can’t wait until they get sick to test them. You need to test them at this stage.”