President Joe Biden’s announcement before Christmas that more than 500 million at-home COVID-19 test kits would be made available to the general public for free came as welcomed news.
Anyone who sought to get themselves tested prior to the holidays, either because they were experiencing symptoms of what could have been the illness or because they were determined to be a “close contact” of someone who had tested positive, knows how arduous a process it turned out to be. Appointments at local establishments offering the tests were hard to come by, and no-appointment test sites were overwhelmed by individuals waiting in lines, either out in the cold or in their cars, for a chance to get “swabbed.”
Having effective at-home tests that deliver results in minutes provides an easy, quick way for people to check their status before potentially visiting with loved ones who may be unvaccinated or more vulnerable to the virus than the general public, and peace of mind to anyone experiencing mild symptoms, concerned that it may be more than the common cold.
On Tuesday, Cheshire was expected to begin handing out its allotment of these at-home tests — approximately 1,400 — to residents, with an emphasis on making sure that those who need them most get them first. The state, according to a release circulated by the Town of Cheshire earlier this week, recommended that priority be given to those who are “symptomatic or high-risk individuals and frontline workers.” That’s as it should be.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, emphasis should have been on those most vulnerable to the virus, making sure that they were as protected as possible. With a limited supply of test kits available, the Town should be looking to get them into the hands of those who need them the most.
However, if testing is going to continue to be a societal priority, then it would seem incumbent upon federal and state officials to secure as many of these free tests as possible and distribute them to as many people as possible over the next several weeks and months. One can rightly ask why it took so long to authorize this move in the first place, especially given the fact that widely-available home test kits could have provided an extra layer of protection in lead-up to the holidays, or at the least some level of personal peace-of-mind to those who may have been asymptomatic but were nonetheless concerned about being a carrier of the illness.
However, the important point now is to make sure that tests are available and that guidance is clear as to when and how the tests should be used. It seems appropriate that individuals who are experiencing mild symptoms test themselves for the virus, or anyone about to attend a function with friends or relatives most vulnerable. But logic would suggest that asymptomatic individuals, who have no reason to believe they were exposed to the virus, testing themselves on a consistent basis would prove to be counter-productive, both in terms of unnecessarily diminishing the supply of at-home tests and also creating an atmosphere of paranoia.
We expect that groups like Chesprocott Health District and others will work hard to help people understand how these tests work and how they should be used effectively, and we hope that federal and state officials can work out any kinks to ensure that delays, such as the one that occurred last week and pushed local distribution of the tests past the new year, will be a thing of the past.
COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere. Understanding how to live with the virus would seem to be our new challenge to tackle. Home tests appear to be a great tool in our tool belt to do just that.