OLYMPIA — The city of Seattle and the state of Washington are expanding testing for the coronavirus, the governor and mayor’s office announced Thursday.
The state now has enough supplies for COVID-19 tests that it would expand testing to new populations, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.
In a news conference, Inslee said the shift marked a “significant broadening of our testing strategy” that could better detect the new coronavirus around Washington.
The expansion also would allow health officials to better monitor Washington’s 39 counties as they lift restrictions on businesses and activities under his four-part reopening plan, the governor said.
The first part of that expansion, Inslee said, is strong encouragement for people with even mild symptoms to get tested for the new coronavirus.
“If you think you’re sick, please get tested,” Inslee said. “We strongly encourage people to do this, even if people are mildly symptomatic.”
Second, household members of people who either suspect they have COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who may have the virus should also get tested, Inslee said.
The third group of people are those in large “congregate settings” like meatpacking plants, agricultural sites, long-term-care facilities, low-income housing and homeless shelters.
“And similar situations where the risk of infection is high,” Inslee said.
The city of Seattle and UW Medicine will offer free testing for the new coronavirus at two locations, an announcement that comes as public health officials encourage people who have been out protesting to be tested if they have been in contact with others ill with COVID-19 or if they are experiencing symptoms.
The two drive-thru sites, one in Sodo and the other in North Seattle, could expand the number of tests, which will be processed at the UW Medicine Virology Lab, by about 1,600 a day.
The testing locations are open to anyone who lives in Seattle or works or spends time in the city. Public Health — Seattle & King County suggests anyone with mild symptoms should be tested for COVID-19. Appointments can be made online or by calling 206-684-2489.
The Sodo testing site, at 3820 Sixth Ave. S., opens Friday and the North Seattle location, at 12040 Aurora Ave. N., on Monday.
The testing sites are opening after King County submitted a variance application to the state Wednesday to move into a modified Phase 1, which will allow for the limited or modified reopening of some business activity for a number of sectors.
“Without a vaccine, our behavior and testing are the most important factors to limiting COVID spread and moving into new phases of normal,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a news release. “For individuals who are gathering, please use physical distancing and facial coverings, stay home when sick, and be tested.”
The drive-thru testing sites are in former vehicle emissions-testing buildings and will be staffed by the Seattle Fire Department, which has been doing testing of first responders and residents in long-term-care facilities.
People who are tested will not receive a bill. For those with insurance, UW Medicine will bill the insurer, Medicaid or Medicare. For uninsured clients, UW Medicine will seek reimbursement from the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act Relief Fund for the cost of the test.
Last week, the governor announced that health officials are working to test residents and staffers in nursing homes and the memory-care units in assisted-living facilities across the state this month. Such facilities emerged quickly at the outset of Washington’s outbreak as high-risk locations.
The COVID-19 testing is meant to help detect — and ideally halt — spread of the virus, which Inslee said is crucial as the state reopens.
There have been 22,729 cases in the state, resulting in 1,138 deaths.
Washington state has struggled to ramp up its COVID-19 testing, as health officials here and around the nation face shortages of materials for test kits.