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Where and how to get a COVID-19 test in the Portland area

A nurse practitioner at AFC Urgent Care explains the process for different types of coronavirus tests.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Local urgent care clinics are offering coronavirus testing and breaking down how each kind of test works.

Christine Smith is a nurse practitioner at AFC Urgent Care, which operates five clinics spanning Portland, Lake Oswego, Oregon City, and Beaverton. 

"I would say 90% of our patients coming in right now are all COVID testing," Smith said.

According to Smith, three of AFC's clinics are doing tests for COVID-19. The other two are almost ready to do the same. The three clinics performing tests see 50 to 60 people daily.

Smith said testing can be split up into three categories: Polymerise chain reaction (PCR), antigen, and antibody.

PCR testing:
At AFC Urgent Care, a practitioner uses standard-sized Q-tips to swab both nostrils. The swab is placed inside a vile and sent to another lab, with results taking between three and five days. This type of "molecular test" is one of the most reliable in gauging if someone currently has coronavirus. It detects the virus's genetic information from RNA.

Smith emphasized the testing method is now more pleasant than the longer swabs used to scrape against the back of the nasal cavity. 

"[The Q-tip] doesn't go all the back like the old ones used to. That used to be pretty scary, and it's not anymore at all," Smith said.

Antigen testing:
That same Q-tip swab from the nostrils can be treated through a chemical process to separate out viral proteins. Tests can determine positive or negative results in 15 to 16 minutes.

Antibody testing:
Blood is drawn to determine if someone has already been infected with coronavirus before.

"Or has been exposed to someone so much that their body has built up the antibodies to it," Smith explained.

Antibody test results can be available within minutes.

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Smith said with so many people interested in testing, it's best not to walk into the AFC Urgent Care clinics without a testing appointment made online.

Upon arrival, patients may be screened outside at a check-in trailer.

"Patients shouldn't be afraid of the testing process," Smith said. "We take extra special care in making sure that our well patients and patients who possibly have COVID are separated."

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Other outlets, such as OHSU, offer free testing through drive-up sites. Wait times vary, but people do not need an appointment. As of July, the drive-up sites at Hillsboro Stadium and Portland Expo Center are open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Updated hours and locations are on OHSU's website.

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