Island County Public Health announced in a Facebook post Tuesday that it will expand COVID-19 testing hours to accommodate increased demand as cases rocket upward.
Free testing clinics put on by the county will now begin at 9 a.m. This coming week, testing will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 18, 20 and 21 at the North Whidbey Resource Center, located at 1791 NE 1st Avenue in Oak Harbor.
Appointments are required for Island County testing, and health officials request that only symptomatic individuals make an appointment. Island County residents in need of a COVID test can make an appointment by calling the Island County COVID Response Call Center at 360-678-2301 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“While implementing measures here in Island County to address increased demand for rapid testing, we are limiting testing to people with symptoms of COVID-19 because this gives us the most case investigation information that allows us to figure out where the disease lives in the community,” wrote Keven Graves, public information officer for COVID Outreach, in an email.
High demand for COVID-19 tests is nothing new. The county reported experiencing test scarcity at various points throughout the pandemic, and several Whidbey residents have shared on social media forums that they’ve needed to travel off-island to find tests.
As the omicron variant surges through the community, pharmacies and other testing locations find themselves lagging behind demand again. Online test scheduling portals for locations such as Walgreens and Island Drug often show the first available appointments to be at least a week out.
“On the question of testing availability, the issue seems to be a problem everywhere,” Graves wrote. “After the holidays — Christmas and New Year — we started to see an expected surge in omicron cases, and therefore an increasing demand for ‘peace-of-mind’ rapid testing, for example, to travel or visit family or friends.”
Some locations, like the county and WhidbeyHealth, have had to limit tests to individuals who are displaying symptoms or have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID.
Graves said that the county has begun receiving reports from doctors’ offices about a shortage of rapid tests. In a meeting Monday, Oak Harbor school board members reported that the district is also beginning to run low on COVID tests.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Jan. 5 that the state will distribute millions of at-home COVID tests to help municipalities combat the omicron wave. Graves said that as of Monday, the county has not received information about when or how those tests will be distributed.
The county’s testing clinic schedule is regularly updated on the public health department’s COVID-19 webpage and the Island County Public Health Facebook. County health officials encourage anyone who is symptomatic but cannot find testing to follow all CDC protocols — including isolate at home for at least five full days.
Full CDC guidelines for quarantine and isolation can be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html.