To slow COVID’s spread, health centers hope to arm households with free tests

HONOLULU (Hawaii News Now) — Starting next week, community health centers will begin distributing free at-home COVID test kits as part of a federal program aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

The Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center said Friday it will distribute 66,000 kits next week — each with two COVID tests. They will distribute another 200,000 after that.

Waianae Comprehensive said distribution plans are still in the works, but they are planning to do drive-up events.

Officials said these kits should be widely available in the next two weeks and there will likely be a lot of positive results based on the rates they currently see in their test lines.

“I would tell you that maybe for every 200 people we tested, maybe we saw 80 people who tested positive,” said Pat McKenzie, senior director of community response at WCCHC.

McKenzie and other health center workers are overwhelmed with contact tracing and scanning.

And like everyone else, they are understaffed.

“Even when we get home, we work from home to call people until 8,9 p.m.,” she said.

The health center had to call in the National Guard to assist with screening and vaccination efforts.

“Omicron came in and suddenly rushed out,” said Mark Young, the medical commander of the National Guard Task Force in Hawaii. “We received a notice to stand again.

“We serve the communities that need us most right now at critical times.”

Young and his team will also assist with the center’s efforts to distribute the tests.

“From my perspective as an epidemiologist, this is the missing link,” said Jacob Schaefer, the center’s epidemiologist and director of infection control.

“It’s access to free and widely available home testing. It’s this and the vaccines.”

Schaefer said testing is key to slowing the spread of the virus.

“It’s a good thing that people know where they stand,” Schaeffer said.

“But we need to be prepared that if widespread testing and home testing is available, there could be a period of a week or two. As we are in the tail of the Omicron boom, we can expect much greater shortages of staff and central services, in places like grocery stores and other companies”.

But the hope is that these tests will make society safer.

Meanwhile, US households will be able to go to COVIDtest.gov starting Wednesday to request free home tests. The federal government offers four per household.

The White House says tests will arrive within 7 to 12 days.

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