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A sign at the Walgreens off Farmington in Beaverton on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 says the store is out of COVID-19 testing kits. (Genevieve Reaume/KATU)

High demand makes at-home COVID testing a challenge for holidays

It's no easy feat to secure a last-minute at-home COVID-19 test before the holidays.

The tests are in high demand and many stores in the Portland area are sold out. At two o'clock on Tuesday, the Walgreens website listed only three stores in the Portland area that had the BinaxNOW at-home COVID-19 test kits in store, including the Beaverton location on Southwest Farmington. By 4p.m., the Farmington Walgreens had a sign on its door saying, "WE ARE OUT OF COVID TESTING KITS AT THIS LOCATION."

One highly under-publicized resource is the state's partnership with Curative. Curative has stood up dozens of COVID-19 testing sites across the state. They offer not only rapid antigen and traditional PCR tests but also rapid PCR tests. They're all free for everyone.

"A new modality that we just started in the state of Oregon is our rapid PCR modality, which enables us to do a PCR test and get results within two hours," Blake Lackey, Curative's senior operations director, said.

At this point, PCR tests are the gold standard for COVID testing.

Dr. Jennifer Vines, the health officer for Multnomah County, doesn't think testing needs to be a prerequisite for holiday gatherings if everyone involved is vaccinated, boosted and feeling well.

“Things are going to be changing as we learn about omicron, and I think we’ll have more to say about the role of testing in the days and weeks ahead," Vines said.

Vines says she thinks rapid tests done by medical professionals and at-home rapid tests are similar in accuracy if done properly.

“Follow the instructions. That matters," Vines said. "It’s not difficult, but you want to make sure you do it correctly. No test is 100% reliable for either a positive or a negative.”

Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state epidemiologist for communicable diseases in Washington, agrees.

"Use common sense," Lindquist said. "If you do one of these tests and you have symptoms and get a negative, you need to go to your provider and get a higher test."

A new study from The American Society for Microbiology looked at the accuracy of the BinaxNOW Rapid Antigen COVID-19 test. The study found, "The BinaxNOW rapid antigen COVID-19 test had a sensitivity of 87% in symptomatic and 71% asymptomatic individuals when performed by health care workers in a high-throughput setting."

The sensitivity measures how well a test detects a true positive case, meaning it correctly identifies a positive case. In this case, it means about 13% of the time the test will produce a false negative.