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  • Writer's pictureMLWA 7

Washington orders 5 million at home COVID-19 antigen tests for the public

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday the state has ordered 5.5 million at-home tests to distribute to the public and will improve booster vaccine access and supply about 10 million free protective masks amid a steep increase in COVID-19 cases due to the more contagious omicron variant.

“We are seeing more Covid cases now than at any point during the entire pandemic,” Inslee said. “Now is the time to redouble our efforts against this virus.”

Inslee’s said the state has already received 800,000 of the tests from manufacturers this week, and that another 4.7 million are expected to arrive by next week. The population of Washington state is about 7.7 million.

Those tests will be distributed in various ways, including through a web portal that is expected to become available in the coming weeks so that families can order tests directly to their homes at no cost. It’s still being decided whether there will be limits on how many tests people can order at a time.

Tests will also be sent directly to schools and local health departments to be distributed to underserved communities.

Inslee said that testing is one of the tools to safely keep students in their classrooms even as cases rise.

“It is our firm and stalwart expectation that we will keep our schools open,” he said.

Inslee said the overall number of tests acquired or expected doesn’t include additional tests that have been promised by the federal government.

And it doesn’t include the purchase of an additional 400,000 test kits King County Executive Dow Constantine announced earlier Wednesday. That brings the total amount of tests purchased by King County — home to Seattle — to 700,000.

Inslee said that the state portal for home tests, created through a partnership with CareEvolution and Amazon, would be separate from the federal portal announced by the Biden administration, and he said the state would continue to separately purchase home tests.

“We will continue our efforts to expand this procurement pipeline,” he said. “We won’t reduce our efforts just because the federal government also has a pipeline. We’ll do both to expand the testing availability as much as we can.”

Inslee’s office said that the $50 million that the state spent to buy the home tests are 100% reimbursable through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As of Tuesday, the state had more than 888,000 confirmed or probable cases since the start of the pandemic and 9,909 deaths. After months of in-person news conferences by the governor, Tuesday’s was held remotely due to concerns over omicron.

Nearly 78% of the population age 5 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 71% is fully vaccinated.

As of this week, more than 1.9 million people have either received a booster or a third dose, according to the Department of Health.

The state also is trying to bolster booster availability, and plans to add a mass vaccination site in northwest Washington the week of Jan. 18. The governor said that the capacity of a FEMA mobile vaccination clinic in King County has already tripled its output from 500 shots a day to 1,500.

Inslee also announced in the coming weeks the state will release about 10 million masks, including KN95 and surgical masks, from the state’s supply, to the community, including K-12 schools.

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