Oregon buys 6 million at-home test kits to give away free through community outlets

The Oregon Health Authority acts in anticipation of a surge in coronavirus cases tied to the omicron variant

By: - December 31, 2021 6:01 am
At-home test

Oregon health officials have stockpiled rapid Covid-19 tests, awaiting orders from eligible organizations. (iHealth Labs)

SALEM – The Oregon Health Authority has ordered 6 million home test kits to be given away free to help detect the coronavirus, the agency announced Thursday.

The kits, each containing two tests, will be sent to health agencies, schools and community organizations to distribute. They also will go to farm and agricultural workers, health care workers, shelters and early learning centers.

Commercially-available home test kits have been in short supply, with some pharmacies and other retailers reporting they are selling out as soon as they get stocks in.

The state stock will be in addition to President Joe Biden’s recent announcement that the federal government will directly provide 500 million free at-home tests. A website to request those tests is expected to be operating soon.

In Oregon, the state is paying $10 for its test kits, with the $60 million cost being covered by FEMA funding.

“We would expect these tests to be used pretty quickly. We anticipate this order of tests to last us for the next three months, although it’s difficult to predict,” according to Jonathan Modie, lead communications officer for the Oregon Health Authority.

Shipments to the state are expected to take five weeks, with the first 1 million tests scheduled to arrive on Monday, Jan. 3.

“The test kit order comes as omicron continues its steady overtake of delta as the state’s dominant Covid-19 variant,” the Oregon Health Authority said in its statement. “With its high transmissibility, omicron is already thought to be driving a steady increase in hospitalizations over recent days.”

The agency reported 440 people hospitalized with the coronavirus, an increase of 21 from Wednesday. Statewide, hospitals reported they had 50 available beds in intensive care units out of 650 and 265 adult non-ICU beds out of 4,128.

Oregon Health & Science University is scheduled to publish on Friday, Dec. 31, its latest forecast for the coronavirus, which will be closely watched for information on projected hospitalizations.

“As the number of cases increase, rapid testing will be critical to efforts to encourage people to take steps that reduce transmission, including isolating and quarantining at home, wearing masks and face coverings, keeping their distance from others and getting vaccinated as soon as they’re healthy,” the health authority said in its statement.

According to instructions from iHealth Labs, the provider of the test kits, a positive test result means “it is very likely you currently have Covid-19. There is a very small chance that this test can give a positive test resulting that is wrong.”

The company said those testing positive “should isolate at home per CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations to stop spreading the virus to others.”

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Les Zaitz
Les Zaitz

Les Zaitz is a veteran editor and investigative reporter, serving Oregon for more than 45 years. He reported for The Oregonian for 25 years and owns community newspapers and a digital news service. He is a national SPJ fellow, two-time Pulitzer finalist, including for a lengthy investigation of Mexican drug cartels in Oregon and five-time winner of Oregon’s top investigative reporting award. He has investigated corrupt state legislators, phony charities, and an international cult that moved to Oregon, and the biggest bank failure in Oregon history. He also has been active in reforming the state’s public records law and was appointed by the governor to the Oregon Public Records Advisory Council. In his spare time, he operates a ranch nestled in a national forest, feeding horses and assorted animals.