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At-home testing set to become more readily available as the push to vaccinate continues

Online ordering for COVID-19 tests began on Wednesday (Jan. 19) amid a declaration by President Biden’s administration to purchase one billion tests to give to Americans, free of charge.

That may make things a bit simpler and easier in Shelby County and myriad other places saddled with long lines at testing sites, the lack of available testing appointments at pharmacies and guessing at whether a household has a COVID-19 infection.

“In-home testing is an important step,” said Dr. Manoj Jain, a local infectious disease specialist. “It’s important to know whether you have COVID-19 or not. Multiple people can be infected by someone who doesn’t know they have the virus. But, vaccination, full vaccination with a booster, provides an individual with so much more protection.”

Dr. Michelle Taylor, director of the Shelby County Health Department, told Shelby County commissioners Wednesday (Jan. 19) the Health Department is ordering 90,000 home COVID-19 test kits to distribute throughout Memphis-Shelby County.

And, in yet another battle-against COVID-19, a White House official said the Biden administration plans to distribute 400 million high-quality N95 masks for adults free of charge at thousands of pharmacies and other locations starting next week.

To receive the free home testing kits from the federal government, log on to https://special.usps.com/testkits.

A call line for ordering will be opened for those who do not have access to the internet, the Biden administration said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that a person be tested if symptoms begin at least five days after coming in close contact with someone who has the virus.

Testing also is recommended if a person is attending a large gathering indoors with people who may or may not be vaccinated.

Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell, a participant in a COVID-19 study, monitors her condition. (Courtesy photo)

In Memphis-Shelby County, the seven-day average for new cases between Jan. 13 and Wednesday (Jan. 19) was 1841, according to Shelby County Health Department statistics.

Although that number seems high, there was a significant drop in the number of new cases since Monday (Jan. 17). 

There were 77 COVID-19-related deaths over the same period.

“More than 90 percent of severe illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths are the unvaccinated,” said Jain. “The best protection we have is vaccination. Many of the deaths we are experiencing are preventable.”

Dr. Bruce Randolph, Health Department medical officer, repeatedly has said the same thing since vaccinations became available. They are still available in Shelby County, free of charge.

But the effort to get people vaccinated is hindered by a political and philosophical divide over, among other things, regarding vaccine mandates, the safety of the vaccines, and even masking requirements.

Parents and school administrators, for example, have fought over masking mandates in schools.

There are more than 20,000 free testing sites across the country. (For a list of testing sites in Memphis-Shelby County, go to https://www.shelby.community/covid-19-testing/).

In addition, the Biden administration provided schools $10 billion in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to make tests available to K-12 school districts.

Additionally, nearly $6 billion in ARP dollars will cover free testing for uninsured individuals, testing in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and mental health facilities.

The Biden administration also announced that private health insurance companies would be required to cover at-home COVID-19 tests as of Jan. 15.


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