Testing has been central to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 across the country and on our campus. Now, at-home testing kits provide a more accessible method to receive quick test results.
However, over the past couple of months, it has become increasingly difficult to find at-home tests, including in North Carolina. Last week, the Biden administration announced it would purchase an additional one billion at-home rapid tests to be distributed at no cost.
In light of this development, here’s a guide for students seeking at-home testing, as well as as look at how accessible the distribution process actually is:
Request a kit from NCDHHS
In collaboration with Labcorp, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has implemented a COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit Program. While this option does not provide rapid results, it’s an efficient way to access a PCR test from your home or while in isolation.
When you request a kit online, it will be shipped directly to you overnight. Follow the instructions on the kit, mail back your sample using the prepaid package slip provided and your results will be available online within one to two days.
However, 19 million Americans — 6 percent of the U.S. population — don’t have access to fixed broadband service at adequate speeds. Almost 25 percent of the rural population lack access to service. This makes requesting a test online inaccessible to some of the people who need it the most. Research has shown that rural Americans are dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than their urban counterparts.
Purchase at-home testing kits to be reimbursed by your insurance
Most private insurers must reimburse you for COVID-19 testing kits purchased, up to eight tests per individual per month. Starting Jan. 15, it’s important to save receipt of home-testing purchases if you have private insurance.
However, having to pay out of pocket for a test isn’t an option for many individuals and families, making it inaccessible for people of diverse financial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, in 2020, 8.6 percent of Americans, or 28 million, did not have health insurance at any point last year, making this option obsolete for those people.
The federal COVID-19 test distribution program
Back to the one billion tests purchased by the Biden administration. Beginning Jan. 19, you can request a testing kit from COVIDTests.gov.
Similarly to the NCDHHS program, this federal effort only serves those with reliable broadband internet access, and this puts many rural Americans at a disadvantage. Furthermore, this test takes seven to 12 days to receive after ordering – a waiting period that stretches beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended isolation and quarantine period for asymptomatic COVID-19 infections.
Although these options to obtain a free COVID-19 test are steps forward, they aren’t steps that are large enough. With the rise in omicron cases, it’s imperative that these tests and resources are available to everyone, regardless of geographic, socioeconomic and financial status.
That means making rapid tests free at pharmacies, sending every individual free at-home tests without having to order them and speeding up the testing process. Only then will we be able to actively combat COVID-19, and see an end to the pandemic — with or without more variants.
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