The Perfect Enemy | Washington to end free at-home COVID testing program - The Seattle Times
April 14, 2024

Washington to end free at-home COVID testing program – The Seattle Times

Washington to end free at-home COVID testing program  The Seattle TimesView Full Coverage on Google News

Washington will soon no longer offer free, at-home COVID-19 tests, ending a program that has distributed millions of kits throughout the state in the last year.

The state Department of Health’s initiative, Say Yes! COVID Test, will wrap up for Washingtonians on May 11, the department said in a statement Thursday.

“Thanks to the incredible partnership between the DOH Say Yes! COVID Test team and our partners … our state has achieved one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the country,” Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, the state’s science officer, said in the statement.

State leaders launched the program in January 2022, with help from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Care Evolution and Amazon. Since then, more than 15 million tests have been distributed among nearly a million Washington households, according to DOH.

Starting Monday, eligibility to order remaining free tests will shrink to include fewer Washingtonians, the state said. Communities “most in need” will be prioritized, based on ZIP codes and other “public health measures that help identify communities with more disadvantaged households,” the statement said.

“DOH will continue to support Washingtonians to keep their communities healthy and protect the elderly and those with chronic conditions who are most vulnerable to the severe impacts of COVID-19,” Kwan-Gett said.

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The state encouraged residents to visit its website at sayyescovidhometest.org to check changing eligibility.

The federal government is still offering free, at-home tests — up to four per household — but only while supplies last, which is likely through the summer, Dr. Eric Chow, King County’s chief of communicable diseases, said in a news conference this week.

Because the Biden administration plans to let the COVID public health emergency expire in May, pandemic funding will soon run out and Americans will likely have to face charges they’re not used to, including for COVID tests, vaccinations and antivirals, Chow said. Costs will largely depend on insurance coverage, he said.

“We continue to work to get additional funding for key services, but public health in general continues to be underfunded,” Chow said. “This has had a direct impact on our scope of activities.”

Children will continue to be eligible for free COVID vaccines, even after the federal stockpile runs out, he added.

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For adults, the process will likely look similar to our system for flu and other routine vaccines, but the “biggest area of concern will be ensuring access to COVID vaccines for adults who are un- or underinsured,” Chow said.

People should also expect out-of-pocket charges for COVID antivirals and PCR tests once federal supplies run out, again depending on insurance type.

“These are the most direct effects of the federal declaration, but I also worry about the indirect results of these announcements, where individuals and businesses might take this to mean it’s OK to let go of all those important lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic,” Chow said.

He acknowledged the state is in a “much different” point in the pandemic, given COVID hospitalizations and deaths have been declining for months, but reiterated that testing, wearing masks and getting vaccinated and boosted will help maintain low levels of severe disease.

“The pandemic is not over,” Chow said. “But the integration of these lessons into our daily routines is how we learn to live with COVID-19.”