OREGON, USA — Many Oregonians who have tried to find an appointment for a COVID-19 test or an at-home test have found that it can be a daunting task.
For the general public, ordering at-home tests from the federal website is your best bet to get a free kit. While states and local health authorities have also been working to secure supplies, KGW News has learned most of those tests are already allocated for specific community organizations when the come in.
Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center ordered its first shipment of at-home tests a couple weeks ago in order to help fill the need. Officials tell KGW News they just received their first pallet of 1,350 test kits with more on the way. Those tests will be distributed to patients at five clinical pharmacy sites in McMinnville, Newberg, Cornelius, Hillsboro and Beaverton.
Hazel Wheeler is the health and safety programs manager for Virginia Garcia. Wheeler said the health center should receive a pallet of testing kits anytime now because the order is complete, but they don't have an exact date.
"What it really does is remove a lot of the strain on the clinical sites to administer the tests," said Wheeler. "Now that can be handled at home and then when there is an issue with reporting or an issue with a positive, we can have the patient reach out to the providers if needed and then bring them in. That allows for other care to be provided for other reasons."
Over the last two years, Wheeler said Virginia Garcia administered 19,000 PCR tests. The upcoming initial allocation from the federal government will greatly increase testing capacity for a community hit disproportionately hard throughout the pandemic.
"The Latinx, Hispanic population [has been] having a significantly higher positivity rate. So in general, for our patients, they're seeing about a 22% positivity rate in the Hispanic population. By comparison, our other patients are only screening at about an 8% rate."
Wheeler said that's reflected in current numbers, showing a positivity rate of up to 45% for the last week.
"There’s a significant increase in the number of tests. A significant increase in the number of positives and what that tells you is as you do more testing, and you get more positives, it just means that there’s truly more disease out there. It’s just not being identified yet," he said.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has also ordered 6 million self-test kits. As of Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson reported it's received more than 1.9 million. The OHA has sent, or is in the process of sending, more than 665,000 test kits to hospitals and more than 108,000 to 157 K-12 schools.
OHA officials said they're holding back more than half one million kits to be able to continue to fill hospital and K-12 orders on demand.
Just this week, OHA opened up the order process to local public health authorities. Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas County health departments all submitted orders within the last 48 hours with the state.
Multnomah County requested 54,900 self-test kits from OHA to start. Washington County requested 20,000. Clackamas County requested 12,000. Even more tests have been allocated to these counties by the state and will come in subsequent shipments.
These at-home tests be distributed to, and through, community-based organizations to people who live or work in high-risk settings and to populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19 who have barriers to testing.
Editor's note: This story was updated with a correction on the number of test kits Virginia Garcia has received.