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20 April 2023

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Access to testing is about to change.

WA COVID-19 will continue.

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Spotlight. Chelan County Fire District 5.

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COVID-19 in Washington. Plus a new variant to watch.

A photo of the Capitol of Olympia, Washington, taken at an upwards angle with a blue sky in the background

Access to testing is about to change. WA COVID-19 will continue.

The federal public health emergency (PHE) ends on May 11, 2023 and along with it, many of the federal and state programs that have provided free COVID-19 testing throughout the pandemic. Although these testing pipelines are shutting down, WA COVID-19 will continue providing Fire and EMS agencies with free COVID-19 tests after the PHE ends.

Be prepared for an increase in demand for COVID-19 tests. Many of your community members may be looking to your agency for COVID-19 tests once other pipelines shut down in May. 

Make sure you are stocked up on tests and have the latest WA COVID-19 communications resources on hand before these changes occur.

Consider a communications campaign (web, social, signage) throughout May so community members know they can rely on your agency for tests moving forward. Email us at firstresponders@healthcommonsproject for a custom social media post for your agency. 

NOTE: The end of PHE does not affect the standing order for the use of COVID-19 at-home tests past their expiration.

Here’s what programs are ending or changing on May 11, 2023:

Say Yes COVID Test

  • The Washington State Department of Health program that has provided more than 15 million free rapid antigen tests to Washingtonians over the past year will come to an end on May 11, 2023. 
  • On March 13, 2023 eligibility criteria to order tests through Say Yes! COVID Test changed to focus on Washington communities that are most in need. 
  • While some areas in the state may no longer be eligible, most Washingtonians can still order five free test kits per household until May 11, 2023.


  • Every household in the US can order four free at-home COVID-19 tests through this federal program. 
  • According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, this program will continue as long as supplies last; that is, until the national strategic stockpile has been depleted.
  • It is unclear how long current inventories can sustain the program past May 11, 2023.

Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) 

  • The CDC’s ICATT program provides free COVID-19 testing in communities that are at greater risk of being affected by the pandemic. 
  • This program is also contingent on availability of federal supplies, but is likely to decrease in scope when the PHE ends in May.

Private Insurance 

  • The requirement for private insurance companies to cover COVID-19 tests without cost sharing, both for at-home tests and laboratory tests, will end on May 11, 2023.
  • Some insurance companies may decide to continue coverage for COVID-19 testing, but plans will vary.


  • Access to free over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 tests will end for Medicare beneficiaries on May 11, 2023.
  • Those enrolled in Medicare Part B will continue to have coverage without cost sharing for laboratory-conducted COVID-19 tests when ordered by a healthcare provider.


  • According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, state Medicaid programs must provide coverage without cost sharing for COVID-19 testing until the last day of the first calendar quarter that begins one year after the last day of the COVID-19 PHE. 
  • Since the COVID-19 PHE is ending on May 11, 2023, this means that mandatory coverage will end on September 30, 2024, after which coverage may vary by state.

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Spotlight. Chelan County Fire District 5. 

People who live in Manson hear it all the time: So…where’s Manson?

If you know, you know – it’s a beautiful place. But if you don’t know: Manson is a small, scenic community, home to world-famous apple orchards, located on the North shores of Lake Chelan, seven miles from the community of Chelan.  

While a seven mile trip to Chelan may not seem far for some, it can be depending on what you need, how quickly you need it, and your ability to safely get there. For Chief Arnold Baker of Chelan County Fire District 5, Manson Fire Department, he knew he wanted to eliminate that trip for his community members and increase local access to free testing. That is why Chief Baker reached out to WA COVID-19, which equips First Responders with COVID-19 tests.

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COVID-19 in Washington. Plus a new variant to watch.

COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases are decreasing statewide, but health authorities are keeping a close eye on a new variant, XBB.1.16. 

Dubbed Arcturus, the new variant was first identified in India and has been detected in 29 other countries. Like other omicron subvariants, XBB.1.16 is highly transmissible, but severity is yet unknown.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Arcturus made up 7.2% of all cases in the US for the week ending April 15, 2023. The so-called Kraken variant, or XBB.1.5, is still the predominant strain in the US, making up 78% of all new cases. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified XBB.1.16 as a variant under monitoring. This is less serious than a variant of interest, which is less serious than a variant of concern, like delta or omicron, but the classification can quickly change as we learn more about XBB.1.16.

We will monitor this subvariant and provide more updates in the May newsletter. 

Further reading on Arcturus: New COVID-19 Strain ‘Arcturus’: What to Know

Here are the latest COVID-19 trends.

NOTE: Due to the low transmission rates of Flu and RSV over the past several months, we have stopped reporting on these data. If you would like to continue to see these data, let us know by leaving us feedback here.

COVID-19 Trends in Washington

COVID-19 trends in Washington state
Week ending September 23Percent change from previous weekPercent change over previous 4 weeks
Percent of hospital admissions2.6%-10%-4%
Percent of ER visits2.5%-11%+14%
7-day average of hospitalizations - bed occupancy350+8%+36%
7-day average of ICU occupancy35+21%+35%
Compared to last year (August 19, 2022)
Daily avg.Per 100,000*14-day change

*Shows 7-day rate

** Due to an increase in at home testing, many positive cases are not reported. The official data, therefore, may not capture the full picture. It is important to consider other data such as hospitalizations to help measure the impact of COVID-19 at this point in the pandemic.

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Mass testing for Covid-19 / SARS-CoV-2 infection concept: Several rapid antigen test kits. One kit in the middle showing a positive result

So what do you think?

Be honest. ?

We want this newsletter to be a quick, helpful go-to for you and your team. Let us know how we can do better. Send us your ideas and wish list here. 

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We provide resources and one-to-one technical assistance to help you educate community members on why testing matters and how they can test themselves for COVID-19. Knowing when to isolate, especially when other vulnerable individuals may be involved, is critical to protecting community health.

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The Washington State Department of Health and Heath Commons periodically reviews the contents of WACOVID19.org to keep information content of WACOVID19.org as up to date as possible during guidance changes and program expansion. The content of WACOVID19.org does not necessarily represent the official views of WA State Department of Health.

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