Breaking News
More () »

Demand for COVID-19 tests grows, squeezing Oregon health systems struggling with shortage of staff

High demand for testing puts a strain on health care systems in the Portland metro area. With a low supply of staff Oregonians have a hard time finding appointments.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon health care systems are squeezed as demand for COVID-19 testing grows.

With the delta variant sweeping through the state, hundreds are exposed to the virus every day. Some events, airlines and foreign countries are also asking for negative COVID-19 tests for the unvaccinated.

That all means more and more people need to get tested. The demand is putting a strain on health care systems in the Portland metro area.

With a low supply of staff Oregonians have a hard time finding appointments.

"I was very surprised at the lack of access," Nathan Sirotta, who lives in West Linn, said.

When Sirotta and his family felt sick after a trip, they looked everywhere for a rapid COVID test. They needed one right away because family was coming to town.

"We definitely did our due diligence," Sirotta said. "We had time-sensitive stuff going on so I needed to know pretty quickly."

The Sirottas could only get a PCR test at a pharmacy a few days out with a few days turn-around.

"The logistical part of it was stressful. There were a lot of things hanging in the balance," Sirotta said, "I'm glad I was able to get one but I just felt like it should have been so much more seamless."

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

Across the metro area many pharmacies, urgent cares and clinics offer PCR and/or rapid COVID tests.

KGW's Morgan Romero checked pharmacies near her house Wednesday but found very few or no appointments over the next few days. There were no same-day appointments.

Multnomah County has three free community testing sites for people who have symptoms or were exposed to COVID. They must book an appointment online or by phone ahead of time.

Multnomah County offers rapid tests but their hours are really limited; clinics are only open three days a week for a few hours a day.

"Arguably we don't have enough of anything right now the way resources are stretched - especially with staffing. It's particularly challenging," Multnomah County Health director Jessica Guernsey said in a media briefing Tuesday.

Guernsey told reporters that health systems are taxed as they try to make vaccination sites and testing sites accessible to people.

"We have tried to stretch the resources as much as we can. The challenge I will say across all systems - public health, our clinical services, health care and hospitals - is staffing. So we continue to struggle with that," she added.

To try to meet demand OHSU re-opened its free, low-barrier, drive-thru testing site at the Expo Center in Portland earlier this month.

Although it's dealing with staffing issues across the system, OHSU told us there are enough people at the site to keep up.

It's a busy place; on Wednesday online appointments had been snatched up quickly, leaving no availability until Monday. 

It's a similar problem Sirotta ran into over a month ago.

"This is something we should be able to get with how widespread it is. But I also understand lack of staffing," Sirotta said. "I don't think it's due to negligence. It's just a problem. It was frustrating."

Oregon Health Authority has a COVID-19 test finder online where you can type in your zip code and find places near you. If you have a doctor, you can call them to schedule a test as well.

Remember: depending on insurance and purpose for testing you could get charged for a test.

RELATED: Where can you get a COVID test in Oregon?