At-home COVID-19 tests in limited supply

Health officials said Tuesday that at-home, rapid-result tests for COVID-19 can be difficult to find but testing remains available at health clinics in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington.

A surge in cases nationally combined with a push by many to get tested either as a travel requirement or as a safeguard before holiday get-togethers, as well as people becoming symptomatic following holiday festivities has led to high demand for the at-home tests that deliver results in as few as 15 minutes.

Last week, President Joe Biden said the federal government would purchase 500 million of the rapid tests and make them available free-of-charge to Americans. Jen Psaki, the president’s press secretary, told reporters the tests will be available sometime next month and people will be able to order them from a website that has not yet been completed. The administration is still working out details such as how many tests will be available per household.

Demand for the rapid tests soared before Christmas and at the same time the highly transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19 replaced the delta variant as the most common strain in the country. Omicron has yet to be detected in a COVID-19 patient in southeastern Washington or north central Idaho, but health officials believe it is here.

Brady Woodbury, director of public health in Asotin County, noted that at least 83 percent of new COVID-19 cases in Washington are from the omicron variant.

“So it’s likely here, and if not, then (it will be here) very soon.”

Tara Macke, spokeswoman for Public Health – North Central District, noted the variant was detected in Moscow’s wastewater more than a week ago, but has yet to be confirmed in a patient in the city.

“We expect it is circulating within our district,” she said.

Chris Skidmore, director of Whitman County Public Health, also said the variant is likely present and circulating in the area.

Two additional deaths attributed to the viral illness were reported in the region Tuesday. A Nez Perce County woman in her 60s and a Whitman County resident died from COVID-19, according to data compiled and posted by local health officials. No further information was available on the Whitman County death.

On Tuesday, 37 new cases were reported in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington, a relatively modest case load compared to the high numbers being reported in many places throughout the country.

The Washington Department of Health revised its isolation recommendations Tuesday for those who have been exposed to the illness or have an active case. People with the illness can now isolate for five days instead of 10, provided they have no symptoms on the fifth day. They are advised to wear a mask for another five days when they are around other people.

Those who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should isolate for five days and then wear a mask for another five days if they are unvaccinated, or were vaccinated but have not had a booster shot within the recommended time frame for the brand they received. Those who are vaccinated and boosted do not need to isolate but should wear a mask for 10 days. The recommendations are in alignment with newly released guidelines from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.