Oregon’s capacity to test for COVID-19 is beginning to ramp up. On Wednesday Providence Health & Services announced they’ve received all the supplies they need to begin testing for the disease caused by coronavirus. 

Salem Health has also begun processing COVID-19 tests for patients who exhibit symptoms and have already been tested to rule out the flu.

And Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that Oregon has entered into a new agreement with a private laboratory to increase the state’s capacity to test for COVID-19. Quest Diagnostics will supply Oregon with 20,000 tests. The first shipment is expected to arrive soon.

“Increasing Oregon’s testing capacity is one of my top priorities,” Brown told reporters. “Our testing is expanding, but it will be gradual.”

State capacity to test for coronavirus infection has been limited to 80 samples per day. Oregon has struggled to get widespread testing off the ground, in part due to FDA regulations that limit who can conduct tests, and a production delay with the tests provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means Oregon healthcare professionals have been flying somewhat blind while making policy decisions, and the true scope of the virus’ spread has been unknown.

Testing is an important part of curbing the spread of coronavirus because it allows health practitioners to know who to isolate in order to prevent further spread. 

Many hospitals across the state are currently sending a limited number of COVID-19 tests to a handful of labs for processing. Oregon State Public Health Lab has been limited to processing just 80 specimens a day. The Oregon Health Authority recently certified five additional labs to test for COVID-19 but the labs were still ramping up early this week.

Oregon’s capacity to test for COVID-19 has been extremely limited, with only 1,554 people tested since the outbreak first happened, coming at a pace of 80 samples per day. Providence’s testing marks a significant increase in the state’s testing capacity.

“The entire team was on pins and needles that we didn’t know minute by minute day by day when we’d be able to go live,” said Mary Campbell,  director of molecular genetics at theProvidence regional lab.

“We can process 500 to 600 patients tests a day. We expect to run the lab seven days a week to help meet demand,” the hospital system announced in a release. Its Providence Molecular Genomics Lab plans to run seven days a week.

The lab has already received more than 300 samples to test. It says results should be available within 24 hours. 

Providence said it currently has supplies to test 2,000 to 3,000 people and is working with its primary vendor to maintain deliveries of testing materials. 

The Providence lab does not provide testing directly to members of the public. Tests must be ordered through a physician or public health department.

OHSU is aiming to be able to process 40-150 specimens a day starting next week. It’s offering drive-through and walk-up testing for sick employees who meet testing criteria.

Debbie Karman, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente, said earlier this week that a lack of supplies could significantly limit the number of tests her hospitals can perform.

Spokeswoman Kristin Whitney with Legacy Health said her hospitals are also working to get the materials needed to do automated, high-throughput testing that would speed up testing turnaround times.