A new shipment of COVID-19 test swabs, combined with additional testing capacity at Oregon hospitals, will allow thousands more tests to be performed across the state in the next few days.
Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that Oregon has received a shipment of 4,000 testing swabs from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That will help alleviate the swab shortage that has prevented Quest Diagnostics from fulfilling a contract to perform 20,000 additional tests in Oregon for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The governor said she is expecting to see testing ramp up significantly with an additional 1,000 tests per day over the next few days. The state now has the capacity to process COVID-19 tests at the Quest and LabCorp private labs. Brown also said she understood that more Portland-area health care systems were processing tests in-house, joining Providence and Oregon Health & Science University, but that could not be confirmed. The testing push by hospitals adds to what’s being done by the Oregon State Health Lab.
As of Wednesday, nearly 6,000 people had been tested for COVID-19 in Oregon with 268 people testing positive. Ten people in the state have died with the disease.
Testing is an important part of curbing the spread of the coronavirus because it tells health practitioners who to isolate in order to prevent further spread.
Public health officials can also use test results to understand how the virus is spreading across Oregon, according to the Oregon Health Authority. So far, however, testing has been limited by lab capacity and supplies to perform tests.
The governor’s office has outlined a priority list for who will get tested first through the Quest contract. First in line for testing will be workers in health care, emergency medical services, public safety and critical infrastructure who have symptoms because they could easily spread the virus.
Symptomatic people in hospitals, long-term care and correctional facilities or other high-risk congregate settings will also be prioritized along with people with high risk who have been identified by public health authorities.
“We are going to see, obviously, more COVID-19 positive tests,” Brown said. “We know roughly of the positive tests about 20% of those require hospitalization and about a quarter of those require a higher level of intensive care.”
She said she’ll be watching Oregon’s hospital capacity and the number of cases that require hospitalization and intensive care for an indication of how fast the virus is spreading.
On Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon announced $2 million in federal grant funding would start flowing to local health centers in the state. The recipients include community health centers in 17 communities, as well as some counties. The funds are intended to support overall coronavirus response efforts, which includes screening and testing capacity.
A global shortage of testing swabs could continue to limit the number of tests Oregon can perform. According to a state report released Friday, all of the swab suppliers the OHA has contacted are out of swabs or have them on back order with no availability expected for several weeks.
Kaiser Permanente is planning to start processing its own tests in-house but acknowledged that swab shortages could limit the number of tests it can perform.
Asante in southern Oregon is “very close” to bringing in-house testing online, according to a spokesperson, but is still waiting for test validation. The hospital has enough testing supplies at this point. In-house testing capacity would be reserved for Asante staff and hospitalized patients. The state lab is currently processing these tests.
Gary Walker, a spokesman for Providence Health & Services, said his lab is doing fine on testing supplies and has processed more than 2,000 tests since it started doing so in-house a week ago. He said those tests have shown a very slight increase in positive results.
On Wednesday, Salem Health announced it was pausing its outpatient testing for COVID-19 at three of its clinics to conserve its limited supplies. The hospital reports it is now working to secure additional collection kits and other supplies but has to preserve the resources it has for hospitalized patients only.
Legacy Health confirmed Thursday they were starting testing in-house.