To slow the spread of COVID, health centers hope to provide households with free tests

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Beginning next week, community health centers will begin distributing free in-home COVID test kits as part of a federal program aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

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

Waianae Comprehensive said distribution plans are still being worked on, but they plan to hold drive-in events.

Officials said these kits should be widely available within the next two weeks and there will likely be plenty of positive results based on the rates they are currently seeing in their own test lines.

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

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

And like everyone else, they are understaffed.

“Even when we come home, we work from home calling people until 8 p.m., 9 p.m. at night,” she said.

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

“Omicron came in and it suddenly increased,” said Mark Young, medical commander for the Hawaii National Guard task force. “We have been given notice to stand up again.

“We are serving the communities that need us most right now, at a critical time.”

Young and his team will also help the center distribute the tests.

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

“It’s access to free and widely available home testing. That’s it and vaccines.

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

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

“But we have to be prepared for the fact that if large scale testing and home testing is available there may be that one or two week period. As we are at the tail end of the Omicron wave, we can expect shortages of staff and central services on a much larger scale, places like grocery stores and other businesses.

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

Meanwhile, American households will be able to go to starting Wednesday to order free home tests. The federal government provides four per household.

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

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