Health officials say one of the best tools to help find COVID-19 and stop its spread is getting tested.

Experts have been concerned about a fall surge of the novel coronavirus with cold weather and big holidays on the horizon. In a news release Tuesday, the state Department of Health said case numbers in Western Washington counties are climbing “at an alarming rate, near or beyond previous peaks in some areas.”

Cases in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties continue to trend sharply upward, state health officials said. Last Friday saw 70,000 cases in one day in the United States, matching the largest number set back when disease activity was high in July, according to the release.

On the plus side, Yakima County has experienced stable or declining daily cases of COVID-19 over the past several weeks. At the same time, Yakima Health District officials are working to sustain or increase testing for residents and businesses. The county just entered Phase 2 of the governor’s four-phase Safe Start plan to reopen the state earlier this month.

As of Sunday, there have been 73,582 tests for COVID-19 given in Yakima County since March, according to the COVID-19 data dashboard on the health district website. The testing positivity rate is 5.1%, down from a peak of between 25% and 30% this summer, Yakima County health officer Dr. Teresa Everson said during the September county health board meeting.

The number is one of the criteria the state uses for reopening, with a goal of less than 2%.

Anyone who was in close contact with someone with COVID-19 should get tested, Everson stresses. Those with potential symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested, but those who may have been exposed shouldn’t wait for symptoms. They should get tested within 24 hours and there are several options.

“We do have that capacity,” Everson said.

Testing sites

Yakima County will have free community-based testing sites through Medical Teams International on Wednesday and Thursday in Union Gap and Sunnyside for those who suspect they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Anyone who has spent 15 or more minutes within 6 feet of distance to anyone who a confirmed case of COVID-19 should get tested within 24 hours, the health district website says.

  • Wednesday: From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Office of Emergency Management, 2403 S. 18th St. in Union Gap
  • Thursday: From 1-6 p.m. at the Sunnyside Community Center, 1521 S. First St. in Sunnyside

People with symptoms also can call their primary care provider for testing. Those without a primary care provider may call 211.

Also, the state Department of Health has created a webpage to help people find COVID-19 testing locations in Washington.

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Many local medical clinics offer drive-thru screening and testing, including the Healthy Now Creekside location on 72nd Avenue, Yakima Valley Urgent Care near the mall in Union Gap and on 64th Avenue West Valley, and the Mountain View Medical Clinic in Terrace Heights. In the lower valley, the Astria Health clinic in Zillah offers screening.

Check for details on the health district’s website under “testing sites.” It’s a good idea to call ahead.

Rite-Aid in Union Gap and Walgreens at 6400 W. Nob Hill Blvd. offer drive-up testing with online registration and appointments.

The Yakima Union Gospel Mission Medical Clinic offers free testing for uninsured individuals. People should call ahead if they have symptoms.

Rapid kits coming

In late September, the state Department of Health said it would receive and distribute the first batch of Abbott BinaxNOW antigen test kits for COVID-19 from the federal government. The first batch of the rapid tests, which can return results in as little as 15 minutes, was to include 149,000 kits. The rapid tests work best for and are approved for people with symptoms, a news release said.

The state said the first batch will be distributed to community health centers, tribal clinics and critical access hospitals to increase access to COVID-19 testing in communities across the state, officials said. The state anticipates receiving nearly 2.3 million tests through December.

At-home test kits

The Yakima Health District provides free Everlywell COVID-19 home test collection kits, its website notes. People who pick up a test kit should use it as soon as they get it, ideally collecting and mailing their own sample on the same day they get the kit.

Kits must be registered on Everlywell’s website, which includes providing an email address. Results will be available only by email in approximately three business days.

At-home COVID-19 tests are also available for $139.99 at Safeway pharmacies, among others. No appointment is necessary. Visit scheduletest.com to request a test.

The saliva tests, offered at Safeway in partnership with Phosphorus Diagnostics, typically offer results in 72 hours or less from the time the lab receives the test, a news release said. Insurance can’t be billed directly, a news release said, so all payment would be out of pocket.

“You may be able to submit your receipt to your insurance company for reimbursement,” the release said.

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.