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Coronavirus Watch: Oregon orders 12 million at-home COVID-19 tests for free distribution

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority on Thursday announced a major initiative to buy and distribute 12 million rapid at-home COVID-19 tests to communities throughout Oregon, the largest state purchase of rapid tests since the pandemic began.

The OHA said that these tests will be offered for free so that people can find out at home if they have COVID-19 and take steps to prevent its spread.

State officials said that the OHA "does not have the capacity" to send out tests to individuals or families, so the tests will be handed out to list of community organizations throughout the state.

“Oregon learned during the Delta surge that we must be prepared for the unpredictable – we knew we had to be ready for future variants so we could continue to protect the most vulnerable in our communities while keeping our schools, businesses and communities open,” said Governor Kate Brown. “As cases rise in Oregon and across the nation due to the Omicron variant, we are applying the lessons we have learned to support our hospitals and health care workers, and arm Oregonians with the information and tools they need to keep themselves and their families safe. Through vaccination, wearing masks, and utilizing widespread testing, we can make it through this latest surge the same way we have before – working together to protect each other.”

Coronavirus Watch: Oregon reports nearly 3,000 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, continuing rapid climb

OHA placed an order on Wednesday with iHealth Labs for six million COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test kits, each containing two tests. These tests can be performed at home and produce results in 15 minutes.

The last large order of rapid tests placed by the state of Oregon was for roughly 1.46 million Abbot BinaxNOW rapid tests. OHA said that about 1.3 million had been handed out to a list of 400 community partner organizations and more than 1,300 K-12 schools.

State officials said that the new iHeart kits will arrive next week to the OHA's warehouse in Wilsonville, and will then be distributed throughout January to the local organizations.

"From Jan. 3 to Jan. 7, the OHA warehouse will receive six trucks delivering about 1.1 million test kits," the agency said. "Starting Jan. 10, the warehouse will receive five trucks per week – for five consecutive weeks – until the order is fulfilled. Since iHealth Labs is planning to ramp up product of the test kits, Oregon’s order may be fulfilled ahead of schedule."

In order to hand out the kits to individuals and families, OHA said they'll be transported to the following types of entities:

  • Local public health authorities and Tribes, based on population size and some health equity metrics.
  • Migrant and seasonal farm and agriculture workers.
  • Head Start and some other high-risk early learning settings.
  • K-12 schools to support at-home test to stay.
  • Health care workers.
  • Shelters.
  • Community-based organizations.

"The test kit order comes as Omicron continues its steady overtake of Delta as the state’s dominant COVID-19 variant. With its high transmissibility, Omicron is already thought to be driving a steady increase in hospitalizations over recent days," OHA continued. "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."