How Are Free Home COVID Tests Being Distributed? Mass. Cities Are Being Strategic

Revere and Quincy are beginning by handing out tests to those who are most vulnerable

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The first free, rapid at-home COVID tests are being distributed in Massachusetts, but the communities that received them are finding they have to be strategic about handing them out -- there are not enough kits for everyone.

On Thursday, Revere started giving out some of the testing kits to families at a food distribution site. The city's goal is to get the tests to those who are most vulnerable as fast as possible, which is why city officials started at a place where they serve those in need.

"When it comes to being able to spend money for a test or paying bills, we would rather provide them the tests," Ralph Decicco, the food hub coordinator for Revere said.

Cities and towns representing more than half of the state's population will begin receiving free, rapid COVID-19 tests to distribute to residents on Tuesday as part of Gov. Charlie Baker's new strategy to control the spread of the virus this holiday season.

For Kevin Mahoney, a Revere resident and Vietnam veteran, the testing kit was a welcome gift.

"This means I can get tested and I don't have to leave my house? That's amazing," Mahoney said.

Revere was one of 102 communities selected by the state to receive the free tests. The city got roughly 27,000 of them.

The rest of the kits will be given out at places like churches and nonprofits. Next week, one testing kit will go home with every school-aged child in Revere.

"If you're getting them, please use them. They are not just a commodity to have. They're going to benefit you and your family and keep everyone safe," Deccico said.

Quincy is also in the process of rolling out a strategy for test distribution. They have delivered some of their supply to shelters and other partner organizations, but the city will also be giving them out at the health department on Saturday.

"They are extremely hard to find. The calls started coming in two weeks before Thanksgiving. People were looking for tests. They want to be safe," Quincy Health Commissioner Marli Caslli said.

Those who want a testing kit in Quincy can call the health department before Saturday to reserve one. The city expects to run out well before Christmas and will work to secure more in the new year.

"Our biggest goal is to get more tests as soon as possible. We can't get them fast enough," Caslli said.

More than 2 million COVID-19 at-home rapid tests are being ordered to help with the rise in infections, and as many residents begin to gather indoors for the holidays. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker made the announcement Monday morning, saying the tests will go to 102 cities and towns identified as having the largest number of low-income residents, and the highest rates of infections.

When Gov. Charlie Baker announced the free testing strategy, he said he hoped people will use these test before gathering with friends and family, especially in indoor settings when not everyone's vaccination status is known.

"The most important element in this is about making rapid tests available on a broad scale to communities that have, in many cases, a lot of people who aren't going to be able to purchase these on our own, to make these tests available so they can test themselves before they go to gatherings or other large indoor events," Baker said at a State House news conference Tuesday.

With only a limited amount of tests being handed out, they can easily go to waste if not used correctly. Chelsea City Manger Lourdes Alvarez invited NBC10 Boston to city hall Thursday night to get a first look at the new rapid COVID tests that some residents will be able to soon use at home.

People across Massachusetts are beginning to get their hands on the free, at-home COVID tests that Gov. Charlie Baker said are meant for low income and high transmission cities. It's important to use the test kit correctly. NBC10 Boston reporter Oscar Margain tried one out Thursday.

Alvarez says each box comes with two iHealth tests, as well as instructions that need to be followed carefully.

"Take your time, wash your hands, just select the spot where you are getting tested and do it all at once," Alvarez said.

Each box contains two small containers with a solution, two swabs and two test strips. Once you've followed the instructions to take the test, you have to wait 15 minutes for the result.

The test strip will show either two lines -- meaning positive for COVID -- or just one line, meaning the test is negative.

According to the test company, iHealth, their tests are 94-98% accurate if done correctly. Otherwise results may be inaccurate, the test goes to waste and you could spread COVID unknowingly.

"We're reaching almost 200 cases of COVID every week here in Chelsea," said Cristina Alonso, the La Colaborativa health equity director.

It's a challenge facing local community organizations like La Colaborativa, one of several nonprofits helping to distribute tests in a city that’s been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Alonso is coordinating efforts to hand out 8,000 boxes -- four boxes per household -- before people gather for the holidays.

"Do these rapid tests right before we get together so that we know whether or not we have COVID," Alonso said.

One issue with the iHealth test kits is that there are no Spanish instructions in the box, nor on the website or app. Chelsea is an area with a large Latino population, and the city has said it will provide its own instructions in Spanish for residents that need it.

The State House News Service contributed to this report.

NBC/State House News Service
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