Washington State to Buy 1M Chinese Test Swabs in Bid to Reopen

By: - April 23, 2020 12:00 am

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is seeking to procure 1 million test swabs from China. The state’s plan to reopen the economy depends on a massive increase in testing, and Inslee has said the federal government has not shown it will meet that need. Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press

Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 23, 2020 with more details.

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

SEATTLE — Washington state is finalizing a deal with a donor to purchase roughly 1 million test swabs from China as it works to rapidly scale up its testing network to safely reopen parts of the economy.

If Washington closes the deal, it will mark the second time this week that a state has gone outside the United States to procure testing supplies the federal government has been unable or unwilling to provide. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, announced Monday that his state paid million for 500,000 tests from South Korea.

“We do have a substantial order of swabs that we believe are headed our way, in the million-swab magnitude,” Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said in a Wednesday news conference. “We believe this is going to serve us well for a few weeks, but we will need additional sources after that. … If that order comes in on a timely basis, I think we’re going to have in the next several weeks the number of test kits we need to do the job.”

Inslee did not mention the source of the swabs, but Reed Schuler, a senior policy adviser to Inslee, said in an interview that Washington is working with its donor to purchase the tests from China. It was unclear how much the tests would cost, but Schuler said that “if that order comes through, it will be fully donor-supported.” He would not name the donor or donors.

Before finalizing the order, the state is working to “triple check” the quality of swabs from the same Chinese source that sold to the University of Washington this month. The school recalled some testing kits from that source after a few were found to have contaminated fluid in vials used to transport samples — an issue unrelated to the swabs.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Alex Brown
Alex Brown

Based in Seattle, Alex Brown covers environmental issues for Stateline. Prior to joining Stateline, Brown wrote for The Chronicle in Lewis County, Washington state.