Washington public health officials on Wednesday announced an expansion of their program to distribute free COVID-19 tests throughout the state, continuing to push testing, masking and vaccinations as infection and hospitalization rates fall.
As of Wednesday, the site that allows Washingtonians to order COVID test kits to their homes — sayyescovidhometest.org — will allow up to two orders per household every month while supplies last, said Lacy Fehrenbach, the state’s deputy secretary of COVID-19 response.
“Home tests are an excellent public health tool that help us know quickly and conveniently if we have COVID-19 so that we can take action to care for ourselves,” she said.
When the state Department of Health launched the site in January, each household could only order one kit, which contains up to five tests, due to limited supply.
The state quickly ran out of tests and had to temporarily halt distribution while the department restocked its kits, but the site has since reopened.
As COVID trends — including seven-day rates for cases, hospitalizations and deaths — continue to decline, Fehrenbach and other public health leaders remained adamant that masking and getting vaccinated and boosted are still useful tools to stop future virus surges.
While infection and hospitalization rates aren’t quite back to mid-December levels, before the omicron variant surged through the region, they’re close. As of mid-February, the state Department of Health reported a seven-day average of 2,635 infections per day, compared to a peak of more than 19,000 daily cases in January. Hospitalizations are also at a recent average of 132 per day compared to nearly 300 daily hospitalizations in January.
“We’re seeing a markedly better picture,” said state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah, though he reminded Washingtonians they could see additional safety and masking restrictions within their counties if cases pick back up.
“The pandemic is far from over, and we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Shah said.
As of last weekend, the state had delivered 13 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to more than 5.8 million people, including to more than 240,000 kids between 5 and 11, said Michele Roberts, who leads the state’s COVID-19 vaccine planning and distribution team.
Nearly 81% of Washingtonians 5 and older have received at least one dose, she said.
Vaccination remains the “most important” way people can protect themselves, but masking and distancing will still help, state science officer Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett added.
“Just because after March 11, the law requiring indoor masking is going away, all the good reasons to wear masks — to decrease transmission in a community, to protect those who are most vulnerable to infection and severe disease, all those reasons — are still present,” Kwan-Gett said. “So I think it becomes important for us as a matter of community responsibility … to protect those who are most vulnerable.”