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Need a COVID-19 test? Want to know if you have the flu? Washington offers new way to get free tests

By Martín Bilbao, The Olympian
Published: February 5, 2024, 6:21pm

OLYMPIA — The public will be able to get free COVID-19 and flu tests at new kiosks across Washington state starting this week.

The kiosks will be accessible all day, every day at food banks, transit stations, churches, schools and libraries, according to a Monday news release from the Washington State Department of Health.

“In unveiling these innovative kiosks, DOH is taking a significant step towards ensuring the well-being of our communities,” Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah said in the release.

The kiosks are part of a state effort to promote health equity by reaching underserved and disproportionately affected populations, the release says. The state launched the initiative in collaboration with local health jurisdictions and Tribal Nations.

Local health jurisdictions and Tribes have ordered 17 kiosks so far, the release says. The Olympian has asked DOH to share specifics about where the kiosks can be found.

Thurston County Public Health and Social Services has preliminary approval from DOH to place one kiosk in the county, according to county spokesperson Renae Miller.

Miller said the kiosk will be placed in south Thurston County because the area has limited testing locations and places to get at-home tests.

The county considered income data, social vulnerability index mapping and COVID-19 testing access mapping when deciding on the placement, Miller said.

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The kiosks have capacity for 700 tests and at least half of that space must be dedicated to COVID-19 and flu tests provided by DOH, according to the release.

The free tests reportedly include COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, self-swab PCR tests and multiplex rapid antigen tests, which can detect flu types A and B as well as COVID-19.

Local health jurisdictions and Tribal Nations may choose to include other “essential health care products” in the kiosks, the release says, but DOH will not cover the cost of those extra items.

Additional items may include naloxone, pregnancy tests, tests for sexually transmitted infections, fentanyl test strips and over-the-counter medications and products.

Miller said Thurston County is still in preliminary discussions with DOH and the kiosk vendor about including additional items.

Kristina Allen, Community Testing Supervisor at DOH, said rapid testing is “part of our new normal,” and the kiosks should help make getting tests easier.

“This partnership with Long View International Technology Solutions ensures Washington communities with underserved populations have easy access to COVID-19 testing and essential health supplies, breaking down barriers to care and helping to promote a more holistic approach to public health,” Allen said.

Respiratory virus activity fell in late January, according to DOH respiratory illness data, but the release says influenza emergency department visits were above epidemic levels and COVID-19 hospitalizations were higher last month than at any time this winter.

DOH advises anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 or the flu to isolate at home and limit their exposure to other people. People who are at high risk for severe illness should talk to their healthcare provider about using an antiviral medication.

The public can search for no-cost COVID-19 testing on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at testinglocator.cdc.gov. Free COVID-19 test kits can be ordered online at covid.gov.