Today, Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office (TPSO) officers received free blood tests, which signaled if they had been exposed to or currently carry COVID-19.
Two hundred forty-nine tests were administered at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center, which hosted the drive-though testing site.
“First, it gives the officers a peace of mind,” Sheriff-elect Tim Soignet said. “It also gives us a baseline.”
His major concern is individuals who are asymptomatic, Soignet explained, as they might infect people without knowing it, causing them to have symptoms. “I think it’s important to know that to stop the spread,” he continued. “So we can kind of clear that air and find out if there’s anybody asymptomatic, confirm that they are positive and send them home so they don’t infect anybody else.”
After the pandemic reached Terrebonne Parish, two members of TPSO tested positive, Soignet said, and have since been medically cleared and returned to work. The blood tests administered at the testing site today confirmed they had the antibodies, he said, which proved the tests work.
Brandon Rhodes, owner of All Industrial Medical Services (AIM) — which administered the blood tests — said the “rapid tests” given this morning are used more as a screening tool, meaning that it’s not a diagnostic test.
“So any positive tests that we do acquire here, [positive officers] are then sent to our office to do a nasal swab for verification,” he said. “So you never verify a positive test just off of a screening test. You want to always back that up with a positive swab.”
The test is complete and documented 10 minutes after it has been administered, Rhodes said, and deputies were notified of the result soon after. “But one of the most important things to remember is even though we’re telling them they’re negative — to not let your guard down,” he said. “Just because you’re negative doesn’t mean that if you don’t protect yourself properly; you could catch it tomorrow, the day after, whenever.”
The free tests for officers, which cost an estimated $10,000, were made possible through an agreement between Gulf-Guaranty Insurance and United Health Care, two insurers of TPSO. Alford Insurance Group helped negotiate the price.
“Gulf-Guaranty Insurance — whose MedPlus division provides secondary coverage for Terrebonne deputies, agreed to pay for the blood tests if needed. The Alford Insurance Group helped set in motion negotiations between the lab and Gulf Guaranty, making their promise for payment possible,” according to TPSO. “Subsequently, United Health Care agreed for the bill to be submitted to them.”
“I can’t say enough about how Gulf-Guaranty Insurance, United Health Care, All Industrial Medical and the Alford Insurance Group have come together to go to bat for our road deputies, correctional officers and detectives,” said Sheriff Jerry Larpenter. “This testing provides an extra measure of security for these men and women who are always on the front line — but now even more so during this pandemic.”
“Because the blood tests have not been classified as medical necessities by insurance companies, coverage for them has been difficult to secure,” TPSO noted, “although insurers will pay for swab tests when an individual’s physician has recommended them, due to exposure or the presence of symptoms.” Gulf Guaranty said they were ready to backup any additional testing expenses that might have occurred, according to TPSO.
“Law enforcement and first responders are among the heroes of this whole pandemic, and if they need support, companies that expect to do business with them need to be there to support them,” said Richard Cothern, president of Gulf Guaranty. “They are out there going to work every day while many of us cannot.”
Only the two aforementioned deputies were confirmed to be carrying the antibodies, TPSO told the Times around noon.
In addition to getting the deputies tested, Soignet said the Sheriff’s Office has been proactive in stopping the spread — with officers being equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitizers, disinfecting their vehicles and washing their clothes after shifts, among other precautions.
“We’re exercising lots and lots of precaution because we understand how deadly this can become,” he said. “We certainly don’t want our families infected, and we certainly don’t want the officers to get infected.”