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Residents in Clackamas and East Multnomah counties search for at-home COVID-19 tests in midst of shortage 

PMG PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - At-home tests have been regularly out of stock at the Sandy Walgreens on Highway 26 and Bluff Road.

At Estacada Hi School Pharmacy, Manager Ben Box said customers call daily to ask if COVID-19 tests are in stock. More often than not, his team has to tell customers they are not available.

"Every day, we get calls to see if we have them," he said.

As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surges around the world, communities are experiencing a high demand, but short supply of at-home rapid tests.

Gresham, Sandy and Estacada are facing the same shortage, and local businesses and some school districts are experiencing the lack of supply.

At numerous Walgreens locations around the state, signs are regularly posted on the doors notifying shoppers that the pharmacies are out of at-home tests.

Other chains and businesses, such as Rite Aid on Division in Gresham, are experiencing similar issues. Shipments have seen long delays, leaving shelves empty. As soon as shipments arrive, businesses report, they are almost immediately snapped up by shoppers. U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern over the past few weeks about alleged price gouging by online retailers, inflating costs of COVID-19 tests.

Out of stock in Clackamas County

In Estacada, Box saw demand for at-home tests significantly increase in early December.

"They weren't selling out before, and we could order them as needed," he said. "We weren't expecting that kind of demand."

Hi School Pharmacy sold out of tests toward the end of last year and has only been able to restock once since then. Other stores in town like Harvest Market don't carry the tests.

At Orchid Health's Wade Creek Clinic, staff said the Estacada medical office has been impacted by shortage as well. PMG PHOTO: ANGEL ROSAS  - As tests fly off the shelves, the Gresham Walgreens on Burnside limits customers to four at-home tests each.

"We are lucky because we had ordered extra supplies before the (Omicron) surge," Clinic Manager Missy Albrich said. "Now, we're feeling the strain. We still have testing supplies, but we're limited to testing patients."

Prior to the shortage, the clinic offered testing to both established patients and general community members. Sometimes there were limitations because of the number of available staff members to perform the tests, but now supplies are a significant concern.

Albrich estimated that at the height of the surge, the clinic was performing around 70 tests each week.

Orchid Health, which also has clinics in Oakridge, McKenzie River and Fern Ridge, was limited to purchasing 300 boxes of PCR tests by their medical supplier to be shared between all four locations.

"It's definitely put a crunch on the number of tests. We have to be stricter with who we're testing and why, but we definitely have a buffer (of tests)," Albrich.

In Sandy, the Walgreens has been posting signs regularly, informing customers of a lack of at-home tests, like many other locations of the chain pharmacy in the area.

PMG FILE PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Oregon Trail schools implemented test-to-stay on Dec. 2.

Roadblocks for 'test to stay'

As the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has taken hold of the county, local school districts have implemented a test-to-stay protocol to keep students in classes.

The Gresham-Barlow School District implemented its test-to-stay program on Jan. 3. Luckily, the district had pre-ordered its COVID-19 test before it started so it was prepared when tests became in short supply.

"With the surge of the omicron variant, we utilized our supplies very quickly," said Gresham-Barlow communications director Athena Vadnais. "Fortunately, the Oregon Health Authority has been quick to respond to requests for additional tests, so we are able to continue to offer the Test to Stay Program for those eligible."

Since the Estacada School District's test-to-stay program began on Dec. 13, school officials said the shortage of tests has not been an issue.

"We have been fortunate enough to have enough tests to go around, we have been very proactive about ordering, and ordering a lot," Communications Director Maggie Kelly said. "Test-to-stay has been successful in allowing students to continue learning after an exposure, and the number of students that test positive following exposure are extremely low."

The Oregon Trail School District is similarly fortunate and hasn't had the lack of tests overall locally affect their ability to provide the test-to-stay option.

Julia Monteith, communications director for the district, partially attributes the fact that Oregon Trail schools haven't seen a shortage to the change in school health guidelines from December. The guidelines, Monteith explained, have made it so "we're not having to do quite as much contact tracing" and redefined exposure in the classroom based on whether students within three feet of each other are consistently masked when near someone with COVID.

To the district's benefit, she added, it now have access to iHealth tests, which students can take home and complete.

"That has cut down some of the work for us," Monteith explained. "It takes a little bit more pressure off of our administrators and nurses who'd be testing."

The district also placed an order for tests just before the holidays, right after implementing test to stay, which appears to have been well-timed.

"We're noticing also that what we're doing with our health and safety protocols is working and it appears masks are working," she said. "We're pretty determined to keep our schools and classes open."

Providing results

In response to recent demand and shortages for tests, the federal government has created a program, utilizing the U.S. Postal Service to get free at-home tests to households who request them via covidtests.gov.

According to the website, "Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order four free at- home COVID- 19 tests. The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in seven to 12 days."


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