Rapid Covid tests are in short supply, as this sign in a Salem Walgreens in Jan. 11, 2022 illustrates (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
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With Covid spreading rapidly in Salem and across Oregon, local providers are seeing a skyrocketing demand for tests - and many residents are struggling to find somewhere to get tested.
“Our testing has tripled in the last month. It’s crazy how high it’s gone up,” said Sarah Comstock, a molecular biologist at Corban University who runs Santiam Hospital’s Covid testing lab.
From Jan. 2-8, more than 258,000 Oregonians got tested for Covid, including 19,662 people in Marion and Polk counties, according to Oregon Health Authority data. That’s up from about 10,000 tests locally the week before Christmas.
Those numbers don’t include at-home rapid tests, which are not reported to the state’s system.
The share of tests that are positive for Covid - a rough indicator of how widespread the virus is in the community - has spiked in recent weeks to the highest point since the pandemic began. Health authorities say that’s because of the more transmissible omicron variant of the virus, which is generally causing milder illness but also proving better at infecting people.
Last week, one in four tests in Marion and Polk counties were positive for Covid, and about one in five statewide.
“If you have symptoms, I would just assume it’s Covid right now if you can’t get a test,” Comstock said.
Salem Reporter doesn’t have a secret stash of scarce rapid tests we can alert you to, or an easy way to skip long lines. But we reached out to major testing providers, health departments and community organizations that have organized testing events to bring you this guide.
When you should get a test
Current Oregon Health Authority guidelines recommend getting tested for Covid if you:
-Have symptoms of illness including a cough, fever, chills, fatigue, muscle or body aches, a new loss of taste or smell, sore throat or runny nose
-If you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid. “Fully vaccinated people should be tested 5–7 days after their last exposure. People who are not fully vaccinated should get tested when they find out they are a close contact. If their test result is negative, they should get tested again 5–7 days after their last exposure or immediately if symptoms develop,” OHA’s guidelines say.
Tests may also be required for surgery, travel or attending events.
Regardless of whether you can get tested, you should stay home if you are sick and avoid being around other people. The Marion County Health and Human Services Department has a guide to organizations that can help you quarantine by assisting with groceries, rent or other needs, here.
Hospitals and health authorities are reminding Oregonians not to go to hospitals or the emergency room for a Covid test unless they have symptoms of illness that require emergency care.
At-home rapid tests
With pharmacies routinely sold out of rapid tests, state and federal authorities say they’re working to make tests available to people who need them. So far, however, that hasn’t translated into tests on the ground in Salem.
On Dec. 30, state health officials announced they were ordering 12 million at-home rapid tests from iHealth Labs to be distributed to local health authorities, schools, Head Start programs, agricultural workers, health care workers and shelters. The health authority said they don’t yet have a breakdown of how those tests will be distributed in response to requests from Salem Reporter.
Marion County’s Health and Human Services department expects to receive 58,680 rapid tests from that order, county spokesman Jon Heynen said, but they don’t yet know when they’ll have tests in hand. Heynen said the county will distribute tests to group homes, seniors, libraries, food banks and “other groups disproportionately impacted by Covid-19.”
The Biden administration announced this week that it would require private health insurance companies to cover up to eight home tests per person per month beginning Jan. 15. That means people could buy an at-home test at a pharmacy and then seek reimbursement through their insurance company. The administration’s announcement said they’re also incentivizing insurers to offer coverage so people can buy tests directly from a pharmacy with no upfront cost, but details haven’t been announced.
People insured through Oregon Health Plan can get up to four rapid at-home tests covered per month without a doctor’s order and without paying for tests upfront. OHA has more details here.
Nurse Andrea Davila administers a Covid test at a Salem drive-thru testing site. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Large drive-through testing events are less common than they were early in the pandemic, in part because demand dropped after the vaccination rollout.
Marin Arreola, who directs the Covid response for Salem healthcare access nonprofit Interface Network, said they’re working with state and local health authorities to stand up new testing events and considering using the state fairgrounds in Salem and the Polk County fairgrounds in Rickreall as sites, but nothing has been finalized yet.
“Nationally, we should have had this already figured out a long time ago,” Arreola said.
There are several upcoming testing events in the region which are open to anyone, free and do not require identification or medical insurance:
-Wed. Jan. 12, Salem First Free Methodist Church, 4455 Silverton Rd N.E. in Salem, 5-7 p.m. More information here.
-Sat. Jan. 15, Mi Casita, 834 Main St. in Independence, 12 p.m.-5 p.m. Advance registration required. Register online here.
-Sun. Jan. 16 and 30, Centennial Park, 900 Parr Rd. N.E. in Woodburn, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Advance registration is required. For directions and registration information, go here.
Upcoming local testing events are often posted on the Interface Network’s Facebook page, Marion County Health and Human Services Facebook page and website, and Polk County Health Department’s website.
Regular testing sites available in Marion and Polk counties
Many smaller clinics and doctor’s offices have Covid tests available for patients by appointment based on symptoms or exposure history. This list is intended to cover larger testing sites and places where a doctor’s order is not needed to get a test.
Rapid and urgent care centers and retail pharmacies also have Covid tests available, though appointments can be scarce. In Salem, ZoomCare and Swiftcare offer Covid testing by appointment, with screening required. Pharmacies including Walgreens and Rite Aid offer both rapid and PCR testing by appointment but are frequently booked out.
Location: Drive-thru testing site at Hoodview Church of God, 1530 Mt. Hood Ave., Woodburn
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Type of test available: PCR test by nasal swab
Testing requirements: Appointment required. No doctor’s order needed for test. Screening questionnaire asks about symptoms and recent Covid exposure, but neither is required to book a test.
Wait times: Test results typically received 1-2 days after sample arrives at lab.
Cost and insurance: No out-of-pocket cost, whether you have insurance or not. Booking an appointment requires submitting either proof of insurance or a declaration that you are uninsured. If you have insurance, Curative will bill your insurance for the cost of the test.
How to book: Book online at curative.com. You can also search for other Curative testing sites in Oregon.
Santiam Hospital testing site
Location: Back parking lot of Foothills Church, 975 Fern Ridge Rd S.E., Stayton
Hours: Monday-Friday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Type of test available: PCR test by saliva
Testing requirements: Due to increased demand, appointments must be booked in advance online. No doctor’s order or symptoms required to book a test.
Wait times: As of Jan. 11, 2022, turnaround times are averaging about 48 hours.
Cost and insurance: No out-of-pocket cost, whether you have insurance or not. Booking an appointment requires submitting insurance information or a declaration that you are uninsured. If you have insurance, Santiam Hospital will bill your insurance for the cost of the test.
How to book: Follow instructions on the Santiam Hospital website.
Salem Health labs
Locations: 3300 State St., Salem and 525 S.E. Washington St., Dallas
Hours: Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at both sites. Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Salem and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Dallas
Type of test available: PCR test by nasal swab
Testing requirements: Doctor’s order required for test. No appointment needed once order is sent.
Wait times: As of Jan. 11, wait times are routinely two to two and a half hours at State Street location because of increased demand, a Salem Health spokeswoman said. Test results typically within 48 hours. Results are posted on MyChart as soon as test is processed.
Cost and insurance: Salem Health will bill your insurance for the cost of the test. For people without insurance, the cash price is $160, though financial aid is available.
How to book: People seeking testing should contact their primary care provider, whether at Salem Health or elsewhere, to get an order.
Salem Clinic urgent care
Location: 2020 Capitol St N.E., Salem
Hours: Reservation cards for testing are handed out starting at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. weekends and typically gone within an hour, according to the clinic website. Urgent care hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends.
Type of test available: PCR test by nasal swab
Testing requirements: Salem Clinic will test people with symptoms of Covid, exposure to someone with Covid or who require a test for surgery or long-term care facility admission.
Cost and insurance: Patients with insurance will be billed for an urgent care visit and test. Patients without insurance may be required to make a cash deposit.
How to book: People seeking testing must show up in person the same day to get a reservation card for a specific appointment time. Cards are typically taken within one hour. See the Salem Clinic website for more information.
Have questions, feedback or a site we missed? Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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