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King County public health officials will be distributing 20,000 coronavirus test kits

Drive-through testing
A nurse takes samples during a drive-through coronavirus test. (UW Medicine Photo)

To address a worrisome gap in testing for coronavirus, Seattle-King County public health officials say they’ll be distributing more than 20,000 test kits, prioritized for first responders, health care workers and people in high-risk settings such as long-term care facilities and homeless shelters.

The University of Washington School of Medicine is donating 20,000 kits, Public Health – Seattle & King County said today in a blog post.

The Seattle Flu Study, which is partnering with public health officials to track the spread of the outbreak, will make 2,000 of its self-swab kits available to long-term care facilities as part of a study focusing on the virus’ prevalence among health care workers. Seattle Flu Study’s team will also be providing tests to about 100 residents at homeless shelters each week as part of a separate study.

Another 1,000 kits will be made available locally by the Washington State Department of Health for testing emergency medical service providers.

Coronavirus Live Updates: The latest COVID-19 developments in Seattle and the world of tech

“These kits help address the urgency to increase testing for COVID-19 in King County,” Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said in today’s posting. “I thank our community partners who are helping to do the testing where it’s most needed at this time.”

The U.S. response to the outbreak has been hampered nationwide due to the dearth of test kits. Another issue has to do with the limited capacity for processing tests. UW Medicine currently conducts about 70% of Washington state’s COVID-19 tests, and is ramping up to process 5,000 to 6,000 tests per day with a turnaround time of 24 hours or less.

Tests for the general public are typically handled through health care providers rather than public health agencies. To manage the testing effort, officials recommend that health care providers prioritize people with COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Increased testing is considered one of the requirements for loosening the stay-at-home order that will remain in force in Washington state at least through May 4. Public health officials stressed that residents should continue to follow physical-distancing guidelines — for example, staying 6 feet apart from others — to minimize virus transmission.

Infographic: What you need to know about COVID-19 testing

Thanks to physical distancing, the exponential rise in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has slowed in Washington state. King County is reporting 3,886 confirmed cases as of Wednesday night, which is up 198 from the previous day’s figures. Fourteen more deaths were reported, bringing the county’s total to 258.

Statewide figures show 9,608 confirmed cases and 446 deaths as of Wednesday night. That’s an increase of 511 cases and 25 deaths over the previous day’s figures.

The latest projections from UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggest that Washington state has just passed the peak in terms of hospital resource utilization and the daily death toll.

Those projections estimate that Washington state will record 700 deaths by August, and that the nationwide death toll will amount to 60,415 by then. The latest figures are lower than IHME’s initial projections, largely because states have devoted more resources to boosting health care capacity.

The nationwide daily death toll is projected to peak on Easter Sunday.

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