The Washington medical care group says it can process tests for 500 to 600 people each day.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Portland's Providence Medical Center is part of the eight-hospital group that has opened a new COVID-19 testing lab. The medical group expects to test between 500 and 600 people a day.On Wednesday afternoon, March 18, Providence Health & Services announced its regional laboratory is now prepared to boost Oregon's testing capacity for coronavirus.

With its new capability, the lab is expected to process 500 to 600 tests per day, seven days a week, Providence officials say. The lab will not be open to the public and tests won't be performed there; rather, samples for testing must be submitted by patients' primary care providers or local county public health departments.

The announcement by the nonprofit insurance and hospital corporation represents the first significant boost to the state's capacity for testing.

Oregonians, including government officials and members of the public, have complained bitterly about the state's minimal testing capacity relative to some other states.

The health system has enough test kits to handle 2,000 to 3,000 people right now and is seeking to obtain more testing materials. The tests should be completed with a 24-hour turnaround, Providence says.

The lab is in Northeast Portland but is not open to the public.

Based in Renton, Washington, Providence has eight hospitals in Oregon: Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital; Providence Medford Medical Center; Providence Milwaukie Hospital; Providence Newberg Medical Center

Providence Portland Medical Center; Providence Seaside Hospital; Providence St. Vincent Medical Center; and Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center.

Oregon Health & Science University is working on its lab that will be open by March 25, officials said.

State contract announced

Earlier in the day, Gov. Kate Brown announced the state has entered into its first contract to obtain 20,000 testing kits. The contract, with Quest Diagnostics, will deliver 5,000 kits immediately.

Brown said the state is expanding testing capacity, but it will be gradual. She said the initial priorities would be health care workers and people in group care facilities, to limit the spread. "Every Oregonian won't be able to be tested immediately," she said.

Her chief of staff, Nik Blosser, said details of how the testing kits will be deployed would come out soon.

Providence announced Wednesday that the third confirmed COVID-19 patient to die in Oregon, on Tuesday, May 17, was being treated at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.

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