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Washington Department of Health out of free at-home tests following opening of online portal

The state had about 650,000 tests available to be shipped when the site launched Friday. The DOH was out of tests shortly after 6 p.m.

SEATTLE — The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) ran out of free at-home tests by 6 p.m. on the day the online ordering portal opened, according to the department. 

Washington residents could order up to five at-home COVID-19 antigen tests for free through the “Say Yes! COVID Test” website, which came online Friday morning following a short briefing with DOH leadership.

Anyone looking to order free tests can head to the site and type in their zip code to see if they are eligible, however, tests won't be available for order until a the DOH receives a new shipment. Tests will only ship to Washington zip codes. 

The state anticipates more tests will come in next week and the week after.

The new portal came online just days after the federal portal was launched, allowing every American to order four at-home tests for free.

While the new portal is considered an important step in making tests widely available for Washingtonians, the DOH warned that supply will be limited at first.

Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said the state would get more tests in the coming weeks which Washington residents can order online.

“We have about 650,000 tests today in hand that we can put out to be ordered and be ready to be shipped,” Shah said. “We are anticipating more tests to come in early next week, and then more even at the end of next week.”

The state has committed to buying 3.5 million at-home tests and distributing those to Washingtonians, but the DOH said that it wanted to get this initial shipment out as it waits for more orders, some of which have been delayed due to ongoing supply chain issues.

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Deputy Secretary of COVID Response Lacy Fehrenbach said, “We want to make sure these tests are in your medicine cabinet when you need them and not on our shelves or a shelf somewhere else in a warehouse.”

The DOH is also urging those who already have a supply of tests or can afford to buy them at a pharmacy or store to not immediately order their free tests from the state due to limited demand.

“If you look in your medicine cabinet right now, and you've got five or 10, or you've got enough, or you feel you don't need them, or you can buy them somewhere, you can go to the federal website, you can get it from your insurance, please be kind and do that,” Shah said. “This is a limited supply, and we want to make sure we're we're really made again making that known to everyone.”

For those who do not have access to the internet or language limitations, orders are also being taken through the DOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-525-0127.

It is also possible to report a positive test result through the WA Notify app or through the COVID-19 hotline.

The renewed efforts to widely test the population come amid the ongoing surge in the virus’s omicron variant, which has created the sixth wave of the pandemic for Washington state.

The Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington's School of Medicine Dr. Chris Murray held a briefing earlier Friday to discuss current projections for the virus, which seems to be on the downturn with case rates declining.

“We expect after the Omicron wave a period of low transmission of COVID. And we also think that, as we're seeing in Europe and a number of other countries starting to follow suit, that given the much lower severity for omicron, given the extraordinary transmissibility [and] the ineffectual nature of contact tracing and quarantine, that most countries will drop restrictions as the wave subsides,” Murray said.

While the wave isn’t expected to end for a matter of weeks in most places, Murray suggested that high levels of testing and quarantining measures even now are unreasonable.

“Testing and quarantine does not appear to be practical or having an impact when you have so much infection in the community,” he said. He said that with the positivity rate of 10% per day, which he said was realistic at peak transmission, it would mean that roughly half of the population would have to quarantine due to many individuals living together in households and other congregate settings.

“You just can't do it. We don't have the capacity to find all these infections, get them to quarantine, nor would it do much given the fact that it's so transmissible,” Murray said. “So, the whole strategy of detecting infections and quarantine probably is not having much of an impact at all on Omicron. It worked here hugely usefully for previous waves, but once you have something this transmissible, probably quite futile.”

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