Yazdani: Oregon must prioritize testing to crush COVID-19

When flus or viruses spread, people want to be tested to make sure they’re in the clear. With sicknesses that are much more contagious and pervasive than others, demand for testing increases. Unfortunately, several international and local governments have failed to provide enough tests for the novel Coronavirus.

Shortages in test kits have made coronavirus testing unobtainable for several Americans. A scarcity of swabs, reagents and other needed parts along with inefficient initial tests by the Center Disease Control has only exacerbated the lack of testing availability. The CDC’s initial testing accurately detected SARS-CoV-2, but these swab tests also presented some false positive results. Unfortunately, Oregon’s test situation is worse than many other states. To assuage many restless Oregonians and pass effective laws to curb the pandemic’s spread, Oregon must prioritize testing. 

Oregon is one of the four worst states with regard to providing tests, according to the White House. Presently, fewer than 30 per 1,000 Oregonians can test themselves for COVID-19 monthly. So far, there have been more than 2,127 official cases of COVID-19 in Oregon. But with a dearth of tests, that number could be grossly underestimated. Without ample testing, Oregon’s government will be unable to predict the pace of the disease as it spreads. 

In Oregon, asymptomatic testing remains inaccessible for many individuals. Although the Oregon Health Authority loosened restrictions to now include testing certain groups of at-risk asymptomatic people, such as healthcare providers and certain minorities, it is still hard for many people to get tests. 

Guidelines expanded access to testing for residents and staff at long-term care facilities and frontline workers. Unfortunately, the OHA’s guidelines only urge providers to consider increasing tests for those at risk for COVID-19, and providers may only consider asymptomatic people from group living symptoms if supplies allow. These guidelines are a sharp improvement from before, when the OHA's guidelines mainly applied to healthcare workers. However, for many asymptomatic and mild-symptoms individuals, testing remains at the discretion of providers. As a result, COVID-19 is bound to spread quickly through Oregon as people without symptoms cannot be tested. 

As cases in Oregon surge, its lawmakers and healthcare providers must prioritize making tests available to the general public. If Oregonians don’t scramble to increase tests, flattening the curve will become increasingly difficult. Individuals deserve the right to determine if they’re sick and scientists need numbers to predict when the curve will flatten.