The Perfect Enemy | Winchendon Board of Health has free COVID-19 Test Kits - The Gardner News
February 3, 2023

Winchendon Board of Health has free COVID-19 Test Kits – The Gardner News

Winchendon Board of Health has free COVID-19 Test Kits  The Gardner News

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WINCHENDON – Toy Town health officials are reminding residents about the availability of free COVID-19 test kits in the community.

“Just because you may be done with COVID, it doesn’t mean COVID is done with you,” said Keith Kent, chair of the town’s Board of Health. “We’ve been trying to keep the Toy Town ahead of the curve, and so far we’ve been successful.”

Kent said thousands of test kits were available at the Board of Health office at 109 Front St. during normal business hours. He said he wanted to get the message out about the kits partly because the town was still seeing relatively high COVID-19 positivity numbers.

“(We) have consistently averaged between 10 and 13 percent positivity for the last several months,” Kent explained. “And even though the Commonwealth’s numbers have often mirrored (ours), Winchendon has trended higher than the Commonwealth long before (their) numbers did trend up.”

Toy Town’s positivity rate similar to previous years

Health Agent James Abare said the current number of positive COVID-19 cases in the town was following the same basic arc as previous years.

“At this time of the season, right after all of the holiday gatherings and with everybody indoors and not much to do outside, the (virus) does tend to spread around a little quicker,” Abare said. “The (positivity) number is obviously a little higher than we would like.”  

Public demand for the home test kits, which were provided by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, was on the rise throughout the community, Kent said.

“We’ve had people thanking us for making the kits available,” he said. “I had one gentleman tell us after we had delivered one full case – which is 90 kits – to a church that the kits were gone almost instantaneously because they had a higher elderly population.”

COVID-19, seasonal flu symptoms similar

Many residents had been seeking out COVID-19 test kits because of another flu virus which produces similar symptoms currently making the rounds in the region, Kent said.  

“In talking with the school nurses, we’ve found that that is one of the big reasons there has been a high demand for tests – parents want to differentiate the flu and COVID-19 because many of the symptoms mirror each other,” Kent explained.

Another reason people were seeking out the free test kits was because store-bought kits can cut into the family budget, he said.

“If parents have to choose between buying multiple test kits at $20 apiece of heating their home, they’re going to choose heating their home,” Kent said. “So getting these free tests to the public has been an enormous help to the residents of Winchendon.”

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Although insurance companies will often cover the cost of a single kit, Kent explained, most families required several members to be tested multiple times.

“A family of six could easily go through 24 test kits in one winter,” he added. “If that family gets infected multiple times or has to keep retesting for the school, then you’re talking about a very expensive burden on the family.”

Abare reminded residents that even if they did test negative for COVID-19, they should remain home if they were experiencing any kind of flu symptoms.

“You don’t want to be out infecting your co-workers or anybody else no matter what it is, but at least the free test kits can kind of give you some peace of mind about what it is or what it isn’t,” he explained.

Abare added that anyone who had questions about the COVID-19 vaccine to discuss the matter with their primary health care provider.

Health officials said that Winchendon had remained one of the lowest vaccinated communities in the state throughout the pandemic. Toy Town residents were 61 percent fully vaccinated and 68 percent partially vaccinated, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

“As a comparison, the city of Gardner is 69 percent fully vaccinated and 77 percent partially vaccinated,” Kent said.

Kent said he believed the low numbers could be partially explained by the politicization of the vaccine among certain segments of the population.

“We state enough that we support people’s rights to their opinion,” Kent said. “There is no such thing as a vaccine mandate, but we also want to urge people that we do recommend vaccinations, especially if one is either immunocompromised or has preexisting conditions.”