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Portlanders wait for hours in the cold to get a COVID test

Winter weather forced some testing sites to temporarily close this week as demand for testing continues to grow during the holidays.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Outside the Oregon Convention Center Tuesday, many people waited in line for two hours in near-freezing temperatures and snow to get a COVID-19 test.

“Everybody's standing around cold,” said local resident Zach Lybrook. “We've probably moved like 30 feet in the last half-hour to 45 minutes.”

The testing site is a partnership between testing company Curative and the Oregon Health Authority. While patients can make appointments online, they still need to wait in line to get inside. It's a detail many people, including Robert Tresente, were unaware of until they got there. 

"We were kind of under the assumption that we'd be able to come up and get it done pretty quickly,” said Tresente.

Those seeking a COVID test ran into other frustrations resulting from winter weather. 

At the Portland Expo Center, Oregon Health and Science University's (OHSU) drive-thru testing site was closed Tuesday and will remain closed all week because of the weather. Organizers hope to reopen the site Jan. 3. 

Hospital officials said they decided to close the site because of concerns over cold, slippery conditions for staff, drivers and patients.

“We took it very seriously before we closed, knowing it was an important resource to the community,” said Debbie Lamberger, senior director for ambulatory operations at OHSU. “It wasn't safe for us this week.”

The Oregon Health Authority has compiled a list of testing sites with updated information on closures. 

Many drug stores were out of at-home COVID tests as demand for them has spiked during the holidays. But not everyone is willing to wait outside in the cold at a vaccination site, which opens the door to another concern.

“Some people may go out and just spread [COVID] anyway,” said Lybrook, “because they don't want to stand in this line.”

Hospital officials offered a more responsible alternative for those unable to get tested.

“Stay home and quarantine,” said Lamberger. “Assume that you are positive [for COVID] and keep yourself safe and others safe. That is what we would most strongly encourage.”