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Oregon and Washington taking different approaches to distributing free COVID tests

Washington is waiting on a new shipment of COVID tests after delivering more than 100,000 to homes via Amazon. Oregon is standing up more in-person testing sites.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — In an effort to stop the omicron surge, people in Oregon and Washington are getting much-needed COVID-19 tests from state health agencies, but they’re receiving them in very different ways.

The Washington State Department of Health teamed up with Amazon to deliver free COVID tests to residents’ homes. They created an online portal, which went live last week. So far 96,000 households have received their free tests and the state expects 45,000 more to get theirs by Wednesday. On Friday, Washington health officials announced that due to high demand, their inventory is currently out of stock. They expect more tests will be available soon.

“Supply will be limited, and we will restock as additional tests come into the state,” said Lacy Fehrenbach is the state's deputy health secretary for the COVID response.

In Oregon, state health officials are doing things differently, while still trying to get free COVID tests to people who need them. Last month, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) told KGW that it did not have the capacity to individually send out tests. On Monday, OHA officials expanded on that saying it was the state's choice to not do a wide distribution of COVID tests. Instead, they're focusing their distribution efforts based on equity, issuing tests to local public health agencies, Native American Tribes, hospitals and schools to distribute.

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“What works for other states is great but we are doing it this way,” said OHA communications officer Jonathan Modie. “This reaches the communities that need it the most: communities of color and those impacted the most during the pandemic who may not have ready access to tests."

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The state is also running a dozen high-volume testing and vaccination sites including one that opened Monday at the Portland Expo Center. The Oregon Health Authority just took the site over from OHSU.

Back in Washington, as residents wait for their home tests to arrive, doctors are keeping a hopeful eye on the numbers regarding omicron. A recent data graph from The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed that Washington had just passed its peak, with the hope of other states following suit.

“The question is the timing of a new variant-- when will the next variant show up?” said Dr. Chris Murray of the University of Washington. “If there isn't a new variant, we would not expect cases to go up again until later in the year.”