Amy Sams of Richland picked the free, walk-up testing site in Richland on Tuesday to get a COVID-19 test before attending a play in Spokane.
She’d tried to make an appointment at a local pharmacy but was told it was booked up until Saturday.
She didn’t want to use the free drive-thru community testing site in Pasco after hearing about the long lines there over the past week.
The line at the Richland site still wrapped around the testing tent and cars filled the parking lot.
But the Pasco testing site at Columbia Basin College was even busier.
On Wednesday it set a new daily record for test samples collected — 1,349 — as the highly contagious omicron variant has driven the two-week new case rate for the Tri-Cities area to the highest of the pandemic.
In 14 days the Pasco site collected 8,100 test samples, said Dr. Amy Person, health officer for Benton and Franklin counties at a media briefing this week.
The Richland site collected another 3,000 samples to test over the past two weeks.
But the long lines at both sites may not be the worst frustration faced by those getting tested.
As omicron infections have surged not only in the Tri-Cities, but across the state, test processing sites are falling behind.
Snowy weather and flooding also delayed results, as all passes across the Cascade Mountains and part of Interstate 5 in Washington state were closed at one point last week.
Results that once were delivered in a day now may take three days.
To help the University of Washington laboratory catch up with its results, some of the free testing sites around the state plan a one-day or partial-day closure on Sunday, Jan. 16.
“The lab has been under significant strain this week due to volume, staffing and equipment limitations,” the Benton Franklin Health District said Friday.
The Richland walk-up testing site will be closed that day. On Friday the local health district also announced that the Pasco drive-thru site will close early on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
The Yakima State Fair Park and Sunnyside Community Center testing sites also will be closed all day on Sunday.
New test site coming
To help with the spike in demand for testing, the Tri-Cities will be getting another temporary testing site.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday he was deploying 100 National Guard members across the state to set up testing sites and to help with nonmedical tasks in some crowded hospital emergency rooms as the omicron variant causes a surge of new cases.
Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland is one of the places where the National Guard will establish a temporary testing site, providing help for Tri-Cities area residents needing routine testing.
The Kadlec hospital’s emergency departments in Richland and Kennewick now are testing ill patients who are admitted, but are not doing routine COVID-19 testing because of a shortage of testing supplies.
The Benton Franklin Health District asks people not to go to an emergency department or urgent care center for testing unless they are too ill to manage their care at home.
The new testing site at the Kadlec hospital is not expected to open for up to a week, but Tri-Cities area residents may continue to use the walk-up testing site on George Washington Way in Richland and the CBC Pasco campus site.
Pharmacy, at-home tests
Many pharmacies also are offering testing, although the tests may not be free as they are at the two Tri-Cities community testing sites.
The Benton Franklin Health District maintains a list of where testing is available in the two-county area at covid19.bfhd.wa.gov/testing-sites.
Information on hours, whether an appointment is required and cost is available on its website for many pharmacies.
Some pharmacies also sell home testing kits, although they are in short supply.
The Flatten the Curve — Tri-Cities Facebook membership was posting tips on where home tests were available on Friday morning.
One person said Harvest Foods in Prosser had some test kits, and others had recently seen some at the Rite Aid on 20th Avenue in Pasco and the Richland WinCo Foods.
Another person said that the Rite Aid on Lee Boulevard in Richland was sold out. They were told that another shipment was on the way to the pharmacy, but it was expected to sell out quickly.
Starting Saturday Jan. 15 home tests may be in even higher demand.
Then most insurance companies will be required to cover the cost of over-the-counter test kits, whether obtained online or in stores. There is a limit of eight test per person per month for insurance coverage.
The state of Washington and federal government are gearing up to distribute rapid home tests, but the Benton Franklin Health District does not know how state-provided test kits will be distributed, Dr. Person said Thursday.
Get free tests by mail
On Friday the federal government set up the website covidtests.gov. Starting Wednesday, Jan. 19, every household in the nation can order four free at-home COVID-19 test kits to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
Previous free home test kits that were shipped to homes in Benton and Franklin counties and available for pickup at libraries have all been given out.
The home tests are not as accurate as tests that are sent to a lab for a result, but do have the advantage of nearly instant results.
Rapid home test kits may not detect COVID-19 until people have enough of the virus in their nose to have symptoms, according to Heather Hill, infectious disease supervisor for the Benton Franklin Health District, speaking on the Kadlec on Call podcast.
If mild symptoms are present but the home test is negative, people may want to test again as symptoms worsen. They should be aware that they may be infectious when symptoms are mild and before a test is positive.
“If you have symptoms and think you may have COVID-19, the best and the safest thing for yourself and people around you is to stay home while you are symptomatic,” Dr. Person said.
People who use an at-home test are not required to report results to public health officials, but reporting does help officials understand the extent of disease in the community. At-home test results may be reported in Benton and Franklin counties by calling contact tracers at 509-222-2333.
Free testing sites
For a free drive-thru test in Pasco, go to the Columbia Basin College site at 3110 W. Argent Road.
It is open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday but Wednesdays and Thursdays. It will only be open 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 16, but will be open on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 17.
The free walk-up tests in Richland are offered at 975 George Washington Way.
The site is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day of the week except Friday and Saturday, according to the Benton Franklin Health District. The exception will be Sunday, Jan. 16.
It also stays open Wednesdays and Thursdays until 5 p.m., says Bernie Ragul, the site supervisor who works with Columbia Safety LLC.
Preregistering online can save some time at either of the community test sites but is not required. Go to covid19.bfhd.wa.gov/testing-sites.