ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — There’s been a major push from federal, state, and county officials to get more COVID-19 tests in the hands of the public.
The push also comes amid growing concerns for the omicron variant as we head into the holidays, where more people will gather and want to know if they have been diagnosed with coronavirus. That’s why officials at all levels of government are expressing the potential significance of at-home COVID-19 test kits as a way to reduce spread.
On Wednesday, 750,000 COVID-19 rapids tests are expected to arrive for municipalities and schools. Officials tell News 8 that 500,000 of the allocation will be earmarked for municipalities and residents while 250,000 will be designated for local school districts.
Monroe County announced this plan last week when County Executive Adam Bello declared a local state of emergency due to rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza have called for a press conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday where they will announce how these tests will be distributed.
That announcement came just two before President Joe Biden announced the national COVID winter response plan, which included making rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests widely available.
The administration’s upcoming rule to require private insurers to cover at-home testing is still being drafted, and many details remain to be worked out, including under what criteria they will be reimbursable, officials said.
Those insured by Medicare and Medicaid would not be eligible, but the White House said as many as 150 million people with private insurance would see easier and cheaper access to the at-home tests. The administration said it is making 50 million COVID-19 tests free for older people and other vulnerable groups for pickup at senior centers and community sites.
“This has to end, this pandemic has to end,” said County Executive Adam Bello last week.
According to the county executive, vaccination and testing remain the best ways to to keep the pandemic in check.
The Town of Chili has already announced a clinic to hand out test kits on Saturday. It’s scheduled to run from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the 3237 Chili Ave.
“It’s a great opportunity, you know I welcome this,” said Chili town supervisor David Dunning.
Kits are available to those residents only, and proof of residency is required. Each kit contains two tests, one kit per resident who is physically present. The supervisor says this will be crucial heading into the holidays.
“We’re having larger gatherings than normal,” Dunning said. “If there’s any level of uncertainty about getting together, it’s important they have the opportunity to do a test.”
These tests are part of Phase One for the county’s “State of Emergency” action plan in an effort to lower COVID transmission and hospitalizations.
Along with testing, the plan includes recommending more work-from-home policies, and facemasks in all public and private sectors. If these steps don’t help lower the curve, that means Phase Two.
“Phase Two, as I indicated last week, will probably move towards proof of vaccination or negative tests,” said Bello. “We may or may not look at masks, based on where it’s spreading.”
The county executive said they’ll be looking at the numbers diligently before making a decision to move to Phase Two. This means hospitalizations, COVID cases, and how well health care workers are keeping up with staffing and capacity.
This past week, 26 members with the National Guard arrived at Monroe Community Hospital to assist with staffing issues. County officials hope this will free up capacity in hospitals, as COVID cases continue to rise.
The Town of Penfield is also holding a clinic this weekend to hand out testing kits. The clinic will run from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the town hall located at 3100 Atlantic Ave.
“We are receiving 9,300 two-pack test kits, we will be handing out one kit per vehicle. With approximately 38,000 residents, not everyone will receive a kit. Our goal is to get 100% of our allocation in the hands of our residents,” said Tony LaFountain, Penfield Town Supervisor.