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Feds to end free at-home COVID testing kits

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Friday is the deadline to order free at-home COVID-19 test kits from the federal government.

The program is ending due to a lack of funding and efforts to preserve supply ahead of a possible fall surge, according to the White House. Congress has not provided additional funds to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests.

Dr. Ayne Amjad

Since the beginning of this year, all U.S. households have been eligible for 16 free tests.

State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said the state Department of Health and Human Resources will continue to provide free tests to local health departments in West Virginia.

“Those places should have supplies to give to individuals who can’t afford it or don’t have insurance to cover it,” Amjad told MetroNews Wednesday. “They’re set up in a way that people can take those home.”

Testing will continue even after free tests have been exhausted, but patients will then be required to pay.

Dr. Steven Eshenaur

“We are still doing testing here at the health department, but your insurance will be billed for those tests,” said Dr. Steven Eshenaur, health officer at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

Eshenaur said the department is not getting any more free tests from the CDC.

“We do have a limited number of tests that are free that we can hand out for home use, but we expect those to be exhausted as well,” he said.

Dr. Michael Kilkenny, health officer at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, called the move away from free testing “a shift” in the pandemic response.

“I’m concerned that not having access to affordable or free tests could cause people at home to go through their illness. These same people who couldn’t afford tests would also then not likely not have the protections of policies that allow them to miss work,” Kilkenny said.

Dr. Michael Kilkenny

The at-home testing kits allowed residents to avoid in-person doctor visits, Kilkenny said.

“It gives people the additional freedom that they’re not dependent on the public health or the health care system for managing a lot of this,” he said.

Eshenaur agreed the at-home tests have benefited the community and, in some ways, slowed the spread of the virus.

“They don’t have to go out into public to be tested. They can know in immediately within about 15 minutes whether or not they are positive for COVID so they can take quarantine provisions,” he said.

Eshenaur said the county is experiencing a “flat line” without a significant increase or decrease in cases over the last week.

Orders for free at-home tests can be made on the CDC’s website.

Amjad also suggested residents call their local pharmacy for tests.

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