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As the Delta variant continues to have severe impacts in NE Washington, COVID-19 vaccination requirements are being mandated across sectors including health care, schools, federal workforces, and larger employers with over 100 employees. Under limited circumstances, that vary by employer, some individuals will be allowed the option of proving they are not carrying the virus by submitting to weekly COVID tests in lieu of being vaccinated.
As the mandate deadline nears, testing options for those seeking exemptions will be challenging. With the high rates of COVID-19 activity occurring in Ferry, Pend Oreille, and Stevens Counties, medical facilities are focused on providing patient care and testing those that are symptomatic or those with a known exposure to the virus. Some area medical facilities may only be able to test when there is a medical reason and not when testing is performed to meet weekly testing requirements at the workplace. Similarly, Northeast Tri County Health District offers testing options, but these tests can only be used for medically necessary purposes such as during an outbreak, if a person is symptomatic, or because of contact with a COVID-19 positive person.
There are plans, using the US Defense Production Act, to boost production of COVID-19 tests to meet this increased demand. There are also efforts at the federal level to form partnerships with retailers to make at-home rapid tests available at-cost for a short while. At present, options to obtain testing that individuals purchase from retailers or on-line sources are difficult or expensive.
From a health insurance coverage standpoint, under federal guidelines, group health plans will cover COVID-19 testing when the employee or covered dependent has a medical need for testing. There are likely to be health insurance plans that do not provide coverage for testing for employment purposes and there may be out-of-pocket expenses for these tests.
The exemption process and accommodations will be different for each organization which is why it is encouraged that businesses and employees alike take into consideration the financial and operational impact weekly testing could have if testing is not readily available and/or extremely costly. Testing is a valuable tool to prevent the spread of the virus, but employers and unvaccinated staff seeking testing should be prepared. While medical facilities continue to focus on patient care, screening for employment purposes will most likely be limited and difficult to obtain in our areas.