The Center for Covid Control is a shed in the parking lot of a convenience store in Southeast Portland. On a cold rainy morning, about a dozen people are parked outside, waiting to get a virus test.
Marcie Varnell is here because she thinks she got exposed at work and has tried all the shops, “Walgreens, Rite Aid, Fred Meyers, nobody has any,” she said.
She said she has managed to steer clear of the virus for two years but now feels sick.
“I’ve been jabbed twice, I just haven’t got my booster yet… It’s just frustrating because I’m doing everything I need to do,” Varnell said. “And now I’m out of work for a week. I’m losing a lot of money,” said Varnell.
As the omicron variant spreads, people want to get tested for all kinds of reasons: They need to go back to work or to college; they want to protect their families; or they’ve booked travel.
Oregonians are reporting long lines at testing stations and say that some stations aren’t open because they don’t have supplies. Some people waiting in line said they’ve been trying to find a test for days. They suggest that anyone looking to get tested should take the day off work and be prepared to drive all over town.
Brooke Sheehan is a nurse practitioner who has had a sore throat for the last couple of days. She wants a test because she wants to see friends and not spread the virus.
“I’m going to be standing in the rain in a line, hoping that they have enough COVID tests,” said Sheehan.
As a health care professional, she understands it’s difficult to organize mass testing. But she’s tired of filling out countless online appointment forms only to find out “they don’t even have testing available in the next five days — so you start with a new website and you do the same thing all over again.”
She came to this pop-up station because she thinks she’ll be more successful standing in line. She also wants to get the results before leaving the parking lot.
“We had done some traveling before the holidays and I had to have a test and it was really easy then... But it feels like the volume is so much more increased that you just can’t get in anywhere,” said Sheehan.
Last week, the Oregon Health Authority did make its largest order yet of COVID-19 tests — 12 million of them. They’re expected to start arriving soon.
The lack of tests is a problem everywhere, from schools to work and hospitals.
“When being admitted to a cancer floor, you have to have COVID results. And so these cancer patients are waiting in the ER for you know, 30 hours for their regular COVID results to come back,” said Diana Bijon, a triage nurse at Oregon Health & Science University hospital.
Bijon recently tried to get a test for her eight-year-old son who was sick. But they ended up walking away because standing in the rain for hours would have made him worse.
Bijon also said people need to be wary of the specific sites they visit for testing. Tests are meant to be free, but Bijon had a costly revelation when she got her whole family tested before they attended a wedding. The pop-up station took their insurance details, but their insurance denied coverage.
“So we had to pay out of pocket and it ended up being close to $1,000 for five of us to get tested,” said Bijon.
The Oregon Health Authority says it will prioritize distribution of new tests for specific groups, including public health authorities, Tribes, agricultural workers, schools, heath care staff, homeless shelters and community organizations.
Starting Monday, the state expects to receive five truck deliveries of tests per week for the next five weeks.