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

Starting next week, community health centers will begin to distribute free at-home COVID test kits to slow the spread of the virus.
Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 5:00 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2022 at 5:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Starting next week, community health centers will begin to distribute 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 they will be distributing 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 being worked out, but they are planning on doing drive-thru 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 are currently seeing in their own testing lines.

“I would tell you for probably every 200 people that we test, we’re probably seen 80 people positive,” said Pat McKenzie, WCCHC senior director of community response.

McKenzie and the other health center workers are swamped with contact tracing and swabbing.

And just like everyone else, they are short-staffed.

“Even when we get home, we’re working from home calling people till 8, 9 p.m. at night,” she said.

The Health Center had to call the National Guard in to help out with testing and vaccination efforts.

“Omicron came in and it abruptly surged,” said Mark Young, Hawaii National Guard Task Force medical commander. “We got the notice to stand up again.

“We’re serving the communities who need us the most right now doing a critical time.”

Young and his team will also help out the center’s effort of distributing tests.

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

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

Schafer said testing is central to slowing the spread of the virus.

“It’s a good thing that people know their status,” Schafer said.

“But we do need to be prepared that if wide-scale testing and home testing is available, there may be that one or two week period. As we’re at the tail of the Omicron surge, we can expect much larger scale staff shortages and central services, places like grocery stores and other businesses.”

But the hope is that these tests will make a safer community.

Meanwhile, U.S. households will be able to go to starting Wednesday to order free home tests. The federal government is providing four per household.

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

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