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Washington distributing 5.5 million at-home COVID-19 tests, opening new mass vaccination site

The state is opening a new high-capacity vaccination site and plans to distribute more than 5 million at-home tests as the omicron variant surges.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the state is opening a new high-capacity vaccination site and plans to distribute more than 5 million at-home tests as the omicron variant surges statewide.

Inslee highlighted Wednesday key parts of the state’s updated COVID-19 response including expanded testing, mass vaccination efforts and resources for residents to get free face masks.

Expanded Testing

Inslee said Washington has received 800,000 at-home tests with another 2 million expected this week. Overall, the governor expects to distribute more than 5.5 million rapid tests in the coming weeks. The state plans to make these tests available through schools and local health departments with a focus on distribution to underserved communities.

To expand its testing infrastructure the state is partnering with CareEvolution and Amazon and is creating a web portal for families to order tests directly to their homes. The portal will be available within the next couple of weeks, the state notes.

Mass Vaccinations

Inslee said the state has increased the capacity at the Auburn FEMA mobile vaccination clinic in King County to accommodate thousands of more appointments per day. The location has tripled its vaccination output to 1,500 shots a day, according to Inslee. 

In addition, the state is working to add another high-capacity vaccination site in northwest Washington. That site is expected to open sometime in the week on Jan. 18. More information is expected from the Washington Department of Health (DOH) soon. 

The DOH is also working to expand vaccine booster availability through more locations.

Inslee encourages residents to use the state's vaccine locator to find a clinic nearby and to schedule an appointment.

Free Masks

The state is upping its supply of face masks and plans to distribute more than 10 million masks into local communities and schools. Inslee said the state is working with its emergency management channels, local health departments and the state’s K-12 infrastructure to distribute the masks.

Inslee said families may want to consider double masking or using a KN95 mask during the rise in cases.

“Given how contagious this new omicron is our health professionals believe that it is important to try to use the most effective mask that we can,” said Inslee. “Wearing a mask is good, wearing a better mask is better.”

Inslee said keeping students in the classroom is a key priority and that his administration will do whatever it can to keep schools open.

Inslee said COVID-19 vaccine requirements for students, such as measles or smallpox, are being explored but noted he knows there will be pushback.

RELATED: Washington secretary of state implementing COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees

"It may seem an absolute no-brainer to do this given the fact that we're in a pandemic and this vaccine really works but we are concerned if we ended up losing students who wouldn't come to school because of that," said Inslee.

Washington is seeing a sharp rise in daily case counts. As of Jan. 1, the state is reporting a seven-day average of 6,483 daily COVID-19 cases and a seven-day average of 141 daily COVID-19 hospitalizations. 62.8% of the state's population is considered fully vaccinated, also as of Jan. 1.

King County announced Wednesday that it bought another 400,000 at-home testing kits, bringing its total to 700,000 total kits after an initial purchase last week.

The first 100,000 tests are set to arrive in the county next week and are set to be distributed by Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC). The county plans to prioritize testing kits in areas that are most in need.

The county said PHSKC is putting together plans to get tests to community-based organizations, health centers, senior centers, libraries and other locations where residents can congregate.

The county plans to apply for federal reimbursement for the funds it's using to purchase the testing kits. The county will continue purchasing kits to increase testing capacity in addition to supplies from the federal government.

RELATED: 588 COVID-19 tests come back positive from Seattle Public Schools' two-day testing blitz

Those looking for a test can find locations and any updates on the King County website.

King County is seeing record daily cases, with a seven-day average of 2,477 cases as of Jan. 1. Hospitalizations in the county have also been on a steep rise with a seven-day average of more than 26 daily COVID-19 admissions as of Dec. 31.