As home testing kits ship out, Medical Reserve Corps seek help

Two federal initiatives have been launched, aimed at making home testing widely available.

Editor’s Note: Read COVID updates by VashonBePrepared in Spanish and English at

Two federal initiatives have been launched, aimed at making home testing widely available.

Home testing will help you protect friends, neighbors, and family from COVID because they will help you know if you have been infected and need to isolate to avoid spreading the infection. The CDC recommends testing any time symptoms show up, including sore throat, runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing. It’s especially important to be vigilant if you will be in a gathering where people may be unvaccinated, elderly, or have health challenges that weaken their immunity.

• Go to and order the kit of four tests for your household. The tests will come in the mail, and there’s no charge for the tests or shipping. The federal government has purchased one billion of the rapid antigen tests for this program. Your kits should ship later this month.

• Washington state opened up a similar web-based program to give away tests at The initial inventory of tests ran out on the first day, but the state Department of Health asks you to keep checking back because the supply will be replenished.

• Check with your health insurance provider for details on how to get reimbursed for purchases of over-the-counter COVID diagnostic tests. A federal order requires insurance companies and health plans to cover the cost of eight tests per month. Some providers will supply the tests with no upfront cost, and in other cases, you may need to file with your insurance for reimbursement up to $12 per test. Tests must have been purchased after Jan. 15. Home test supplies at pharmacies continue to be erratic and require some searching.

Medical Reserve Corps Appeals for Community Contact Tracing Help

Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) needs your help to beat the current severe spike in Omicron-variant cases of COVID. If you get a positive test, call the MRC helpline at (844) 469-4554. You’ll be doing yourself and the community a favor.

“People assume that we automatically are informed about positive tests, but that’s not true,” said Dr. Jim Bristow, MRC’s primary lead on COVID testing since the beginning of the pandemic. “The two new free home test kit programs will hopefully get thousands of tests to Vashonites, which is great. However, positive results from home testing will stay in the home unless the patient gets in touch with us so we can help by providing advice and by tracking the path of the infection in the community. Please call our helpline if you have a positive test result.”

Tracing Important for the School/Community Infection Connection

According to Bristow, the aggressive testing program at Vashon schools has been very helpful. However, the recent volume of cases has been overwhelming, and the school district has not been able to keep up with sharing information with MRC on positive tests.

That’s a particular problem because of the school/community COVID connection, so it’s vital that those who test positive at school or home contact the MRC helpline at (844) 469-4554.

Analysis shows that the cumulative COVID rate in the schools since the pandemic began is more than double the rate in the general Vashon population — with 10.5% of the Vashon school district students and staff infected to date compared to only 4.1% infected in the non-school population.

“The district tracks infections in classrooms, but COVID doesn’t know boundaries and doesn’t just stay on the school grounds,” Bristow said. “Over and over, we see kids bringing COVID home and infecting siblings who then miss school, or they infect parents who miss work and family income. This has hit our island’s low-income families very hard.”

Island Clinics Swamped by Seasonal Respiratory Ailments

On top of the current very serious Omicron spike of COVID, Vashon Natural Medicine and Sea Mar clinics have been dealing with a major increase in the number of seasonal respiratory ailments, so it’s a good idea to get your flu shot if you haven’t already done so.

Vashon Natural Medicine started seeing double the typical number of winter colds, flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia around the first of the month. Even though many of the respiratory illness patients are testing negative, they are being treated as if they have COVID.

“We are recommending that patients isolate or quarantine during symptoms, regardless,” clinic owner Dr. Kelly Wright said.

At Sea Mar, Clinic Administrator Kerry Barnes also reports an uptick in patients with respiratory ailments and sore throats who are testing negative for both COVID and strep throat. As a safety measure, Sea Mar asks patients with symptoms to begin their treatment by signing up for telehealth appointments.

“We are trying to protect our patients and staff, so we are encouraging patients to have a phone visit with a provider, and they will determine if we need to test for flu, COVID, or strep,” Barnes said.

Barnes acknowledged that there has been a significant increase in positive COVID tests, stressing that it’s important to stay home when ill or waiting for test results. That may not be easy to do for some households, but she said it’s important to decrease community spread and to reduce stress on health care workers.

“Do a home test. If you are not sure, get a PCR test done. Wear a mask. Practice good hand hygiene, and stay home when you are sick,” she said.

A testing backlog has resulted in delayed results, Barnes noted, and some people aren’t waiting for test results before going out in public, which contributes to the spread of illness. The clinic is working with its lab vendor to get results back as soon as possible and is trying to address the shortage of testing supplies as well, she added.

The current challenges to personnel throughout the healthcare system are real, Barnes said, affecting referrals, scheduling, and providers. The Omicron spike has caused staff shortages because clinic workers can be out for up to 14 days, depending on their COVID symptoms.

“We need the community to help each other out to decrease the spread,” she said.

Reminder: Up Your Mask Game

The CDC recently announced that it would be good to move up to 95% mask protection if you can, especially if you’ll be in risky situations or around someone who may be at risk due to their health or because they aren’t vaccinated.

The N95 mask standard was named because it filters out 95% of all airborne particles when used correctly. Facing the highly contagious Omicron variant, the CDC now cautions that cloth masks offer the least protection against COVID, especially compared to the highest level of protection provided by N95 masks.

The capital letters “NIOSH” should be printed right on the mask. The federal government has announced a new program to get masks to the public and will be distributing 400 million free N95 masks. The distribution plan includes health centers and pharmacies, but it is not yet clear how the masks might be made available on Vashon.

Latest Vashon COVID Statistics

Source: Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC) and Vashon EOC. These statistics, valid as of Monday, Jan. 24, do not include all recent Vashon cases, due to the lag in posting of data to the PHSKC COVID-19 dashboard, especially given the current Omicron variant spike.

610 = Total COVID cases for Vashon residents since the pandemic began.

59 = New cases since the last weekly report (141 new cases in 14 days).

11 = Patients hospitalized since the pandemic began.

4 = Deaths since the pandemic began.

Greater than 95% = percentage of Vashon residents age 12+ who have been fully vaccinated, compared to 86.7% of the total King County 12+ population.

68.5% = percentage of Vashon residents age 12+ who have their booster doses.

62.8% = percentage of Vashon residents age 5 to 11 with first doses of vaccine (57.4% have completed the series).

For King County, the PHSKC dashboard for the last 30 days says unvaccinated people are 2.5 times more likely to get COVID, 11 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID, and 17 times more likely to die of COVID.

For more resources, visit Sign up at to receive email updates from the group, and/or visit VashonBePrepared on Facebook.