The Umatilla County Public Health Department is expecting an initial allotment of “about 1,000” rapid COVID-19 tests as a part of the state’s new testing strategy, according to Public Health Director Joe Fiumara.
The new strategy is coming after the state received a pledge from the federal government last week to receive about 60,000 to 80,000 tests each week for the rest of 2020. These kits, called the Abbot BinaxNOW, are a new antigen test on the market that can return results within 15 minutes.
“We’re working with our partners to figure out where and how we can use these,” Fiumara said. “More testing kits are always good — but these kits have some strings attached to them.”
State officials have indicated the influx of testing supplies can be used to reduce the virus’ spread throughout the state and is Oregon’s best chance to reopen schools for in-person instruction.
However, Fiumara said the rapid antigen tests haven’t been “validated” in children or individuals without symptoms of COVID-19.
“It’s not that you can’t use them there, but there’s not good data on how they work for those populations,” Fiumara said.
The tests still need to be administered by a health professional and samples are taken via a nasal swab. But antigen tests detect proteins on the virus’ surface rather than detecting its underlying genetic material like the more widely available polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has indicated that antigen tests are “more likely to miss an active coronavirus infection” than the molecular tests.
But Fiumara said the new testing supplies can still be used to boost capacity where testing is already occurring, and that false negatives are more easily cleared and corrected due to the test’s quick turnaround time.
“The real benefit of these is they’re a 15-minute read,” he said. “If you get an outbreak and you’re trying to really determine how wide this outbreak is spreading, you can test a lot of people in a very short period of time.”
There’s also new availability for take-home COVID tests for those who can afford it.
According to a press release, Safeway and Albertsons stores in Oregon are offering saliva-based tests that can be picked up or delivered, and then mailed to a lab for results within approximately 72 hours. The tests can be ordered from local stores at scheduletest.com and cost $139.99 out of pocket. Insurance can’t be billed for the cost, the release stated.
The boost in testing supplies comes as the number of people being tested for the virus locally keeps dropping for reasons that are unclear to Fiumara and the county health department.
“It seems like testing overall is continuing to drop, but the capacity is still there,” he said. “We’re not actually sure what the rationale is.”
From June 21 to Aug. 1, the Oregon Health Authority reported that more than 1,000 people were tested for the virus each week in Umatilla County. Based on testing data published on the state’s public data dashboards as of Friday, Oct. 9, an average of just over 600 people were tested for the virus per week between Aug. 2 and Oct. 3.
Fiumara said the county was still awaiting final word on when the new rapid tests would be arriving and exactly how many are on the way, but for now the plan is to find the most effective way to use them before they expire in five months.
“More tests is always good, we’ve just got to make sure we use them right,” he said.