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Health and Medicine

Oregonians report lack of available COVID testing, long wait times

FILE - Boxes of BinaxNow home COVID-19 tests made by Abbott are shown for sale on Nov. 15, 2021, at a CVS store in Lakewood, Wash.
Ted S. Warren
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FILE - Boxes of BinaxNow home COVID-19 tests made by Abbott are shown for sale on Nov. 15, 2021, at a CVS store in Lakewood, Wash.

Based on responses on Twitter, Oregonians’ recent experiences with getting tested for COVID-19 varied greatly, depending on where respondents were.

As COVID-19 cases ebb and flow, so does the availability of tests. On Monday, Oregon reported the largest single-day total of newly identified cases reported to public health, with 3,534 confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases. Now that Oregon is facing a surge of new cases caused by the omicron variant, tests once again are becoming harder to come by.

Based on responses on Twitter, Oregonians’ recent experiences with getting tested for COVID-19 varied greatly, depending on where respondents were.

But one thing people seemed to agree on: at-home tests are hard to come by, as they’re flying off shelves and are sold out at many stores. Some people said that getting tested at a testing site was easy and accessible, but an overwhelming majority of the 50 Twitter responses reported appointments booked up for several days, long wait times at walk-up test sites, and delays in getting testing results.

Kevin Mealy. spokesperson for the Oregon Nurses Association. says health care workers have already noticed the effects of the surge on testing.

“What we know is that there’s a lack of access to tests, there’s long lines for tests, there’s long waits on the back end processing all those tests,” Mealy said.

Mealy’s concerned that if people face difficulties accessing tests, they might choose to forgo testing. He said that reluctance would cause problems as health care workers try to prevent people from spreading COVID.

“We need to make that process simple and effective,” Mealy said. “And long waits prevent people from going back, or from trying again in two weeks when they have another exposure.”

But Mealy says even if people get tested, if results take a long time, they are less helpful as the window to act and prevent spread closes.

“If we can’t get people actionable information quickly, we run the risk of losing them and they won’t take the extra steps they might need to isolate or quarantine or mask,” Mealy said.

He says even for health care workers, there’s a concern that tests will be harder to come by, with lines to get tested getting longer, and the time to get results getting further delayed.

“These folks who work with potential COVID-19 patients every day, always need access to testing,” He said. “So that need has never changed, but as the number of cases in the community and coming into the hospital doors increase, that means more health care workers need testing so they can make sure that they’re safe to practice as well.”

The Oregon Health Authority was unable to provide comment for this story, with officials saying health experts were busy. OHA did announce last week that Oregon has made its largest order yet of COVID-19 tests. The state plans to offer those kits to people around the state for free so they can find out, at home, if they are carrying the virus, and take steps to prevent its spread.

Oregon Health Authority placed an order Dec. 30 with iHealth Labs for 12 million of its COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Tests that can be performed at home. Results from those tests are available in 15 minutes.

The agency said it does not have the capacity to individually send out tests, so it will prioritize distribution to local public health departments, Tribes, agriculture workers, early learning settings, K-12 schools, health care workers, shelters, and community-based organizations.

The Oregon Health Authority recommends testing if you have symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of your vaccination status, according to their website.

Fully vaccinated people should be tested within five to seven days of exposure. People who are not fully vaccinated should get tested when they find out they are a close contact, and if their test result is negative, they should get tested again five to seven days after exposure or if symptoms develop.

OHA adds, you should stay home and away from others while you wait for the results of your COVID-19 test.

Mealy says the nurses association has been supportive of national efforts to get affordable at-home tests available to people so they can test early after exposure or symptoms.

“That’s always the goal of testing,” Mealy said. “It isn’t just to get a result in a checkbox, it’s to give you early information so that you can protect others and stop the spread.”

Mealy believes additional staffing at testing sites and processing centers, especially during the surge, would be the best option for reducing wait times. He hopes that this is something that health authorities will act on, as more people seek testing.

“We don’t want to lose people who are taking action quickly to stop the spread,” Mealy said. " They are some of our best allies in ensuring that this next COVID surge is less than the highest highs that have been projected.”

The Oregon Health Authority has an online tool for finding testing in your area.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.