State of Oregon Purchases 12 Million At-Home COVID-19 Test Kits

The Oregon Health Authority will distribute the sometimes elusive tests to local health agencies in January.

COVID-19 testing outside a Portland music venue. (Justin Yau)

As Multnomah County approaches a new weekly record for COVID-19 cases, the Oregon Health Authority has announced plans to distribute 12 million home COVID-19 tests next month.

President Joe Biden earlier announced plans to distribute 500 million tests for free. That plan is still coming together, so, in the meantime, Oregon placed an order Dec. 29 with iHealth Labs for 6 million of its COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test kits (each kit contains two tests).

“Oregon learned during the Delta surge that we must be prepared for the unpredictable,” said Gov. Kate Brown in a statement. She pledged to “arm Oregonians with the information and tools they need to keep themselves and their families safe.”

The state’s largest previous purchase of at-home tests was just 1.46 million units. Tests at walk-in or drive-thru clinics can often cost upwards of $100 apiece and can be difficult to schedule. The state will make the at-home tests, which take about 15 minutes to produce a result, available for free.

The state will distribute the tests to local health authorities, schools, Indigenous tribes and community-based organizations, including those that serve agricultural workers and homeless Oregonians.

“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,” Brown added.

The announcement came on the eve of new projections by Oregon Health & Science University, which estimate the Omicron wave will peak at 1,650 hospitalizations statewide by the end of January—a higher figure than the hospital projected last week, though still lower than initial estimates. That prediction has fluctuated as OHSU analyst Peter Graven tracks how the variant has spread in other places, and how severe its effects have been.

The 1,650 hospitalizations figure is more than a third higher than the maximum daily hospitalizations from the Delta wave last summer.

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