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'The demand is outpacing the supply': Parents struggle to schedule COVID tests for kids

Doctors don't expect demand for COVID tests to decrease anytime soon, but they suggest knowing where to look for tests should help.

PORTLAND, Oregon — A shortage of COVID-19 tests is causing frustration for a lot of people, especially parents. With the delta variant bearing down hard and most kids too young to get vaccinated, there is a growing need among kids to get tested in order to stay in school, 

“We didn't even make it two weeks before we had our first [COVID] fear and it turned out to be okay,” said parent Hans Heinzer. But getting the COVID tests that led to that reassurance was more complicated than Heinzer expected.

“Yesterday it was actually very easy. I called my pediatrician and they were able to get us in within a couple hours,” said Heinzer. “My second kid was sick this morning and we called the same pediatrician and they said, ‘We are no longer able to accept testing. We are overrun with too many tests from kids in school.’”

In Multnomah County, county-run community health clinics have added more testing hours to meet the demand while also balancing demand for vaccinations.

“The demand is right now outpacing the current supply,” said Jessica Guernsey, public health director for Multnomah County. “It's really a matter of staffing; the entire health care system in public health is stretched beyond its limit right now.”

So what should parents do?

“To get a test quickly, the first thing to try is to call your pediatrician or your health care provider,” said Dr. Peter Reed, pediatrician and president of Pediatric Associates of the Northwest.

RELATED: What happens when students and staff are exposed to COVID-19 in Oregon?

Reed said even his clinic suffered briefly from a shortage of testing supplies, though they're fully stocked now. He said while scheduling COVID tests may be tedious right now, testing kids is a critical part of protecting schools and the greater community from COVID.

“Even for trained providers like us, it's not possible to tell from one child to the next, or one person to the next, which symptoms are COVID or any number of other cold viruses,” said Reed.

If a pediatrician isn't an option, experts suggest checking with your child's school since a growing number of them are offering COVID tests. Another option is to call the 211info help line. Operators can direct you to testing sites both near and far. Those sites include a drive-thru testing option at the Portland Expo Center that requires appointments, as well as several county-run clinics.

“If you go to a community test site you are likely going to have to wait just a bit of time for a test,” warned Guernsey. “I know sometimes that can be difficult for kids.”

Hans Heinzer is grateful his kids are healthy but expects that more COVID tests are in their future. He hopes what his family experienced will help others in the same boat.

“I just want there to be more information for parents to get their tests,” said Heinzer, “so a little cold doesn't keep their kid out of school for three or five days.”

RELATED: Long lines and COVID tests: Oregon State University students move into dorms