Feb 29, 2024 - News

Kiosks dispense free COVID and flu tests in Washington state

A vending machine containing health products including flu and COVID-19 tests sits outside a building.

One of the vending machines that dispenses flu and COVID-19 tests in Pierce County. Photo: Courtesy of the Washington State Department of Health

Vending machines dispensing free COVID-19 and flu tests have started popping up around Washington state, with more to be installed in the coming weeks.

Why it matters: Testing can help curb the spread of respiratory illness, which public health officials say is important after COVID-19 hospitalizations rose in January and flu-related emergency room visits continue to outpace last year's levels.

The latest: By early April, the state Department of Health expects to have 20 test-dispensing kiosks up and running throughout Washington, spokesperson John Doyle told Axios.

  • A machine isn't slated to come to King County at the moment, but local public health officials are exploring whether they can get one, Kate Cole, spokesperson for Public Health – Seattle & King County, told Axios.

State of play: Four vending machines are up and running right now — one in Grays Harbor County, one in Thurston County and two in Pierce County.

  • Sixteen more are approved for tribal governments and public health districts throughout the state, including in Whatcom, Snohomish, Skamania, Yakima, Asotin and Okanogan counties.

What they're saying: The vending machine program "ensures Washington communities with underserved populations have easy access to COVID-19 testing and essential health supplies, breaking down barriers to care," Kristina Allen, the state health department's community testing supervisor, said in a news release.

The fine print: The 24-hour-vending machines can hold up to 700 tests, and must be filled at least halfway with flu and COVID-19 tests provided by the state.

  • Local officials can add other items, such as the overdose-reversing medication naloxone or pregnancy tests, at their own expense.

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