Hamilton County residents can now test themselves for COVID-19 at home using free, rapid COVID-19 test kits through a county-wide program called “Say Yes! COVID Test.”
The program is the first of its kind in the United States and encourages residents to use the tests three times a week, regardless of symptoms, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 throughout the community.
Participants are also encouraged to join in an optional research component of the “Say Yes! COVID Test” project — an initiative from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health — by filling out brief surveys via smartphone app about their experience to help inform similar public health interventions in the future. Those who complete enough surveys will be eligible to receive a gift card for up to $50.
The researchers’ goal is to make COVID-19 testing fast and simple so people can know if they’re infected and then to determine if that personal knowledge encourages protective behaviors — such as self-isolating until the infectious period is over — and thereby reduces community transmission.
Hamilton County was one of two counties in the country selected for the program due to its high levels of COVID-19 transmission and the availability of public data needed to gauge the success of the program, as well as the willingness on the part of local officials to partner with the CDC and NIH.
Dr. Fernando Urrego, interim health officer for the Hamilton County Health Department, is leading the local side of the project.
“Identifying infected individuals, particularly those without symptoms, will help in decreasing viral spread. The Say Yes! COVID Test initiative is a remarkable opportunity for the residents of our county to have access to free, at-home testing kits,” Urrego said during a news briefing on Tuesday. An estimated 30% of people or more who are infected with COVID-19 do not show obvious symptoms.
Individuals who have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine or who have the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19, such as people working or going to school outside the home, are ideal candidates for participation, but anyone over the age of 8 is welcome to participate, according to a news release from the health department.
In general, only one kit will be given per household, and a total of 40,000 free kits are available to be picked up at locations across the county or delivered to residents’ homes.
Urrego said households with more than two people should pick the two with the greatest risk of exposure for testing. Large households may be able to get more than one testing kit, he said.
“The best part of this is that you’ll be able to test yourself and get your test results in the privacy of your own home,” Urrego said, adding that directions for how to complete the tests — which require a quick swab inside each nostril — are included with the kit, and results will be ready in 10 minutes.
The maker of the tests, Quidel, is the same company that made the first rapid flu tests used by doctors’ offices in the U.S., according to a news release from the Hamilton County Health Department. Each test kit supports home testing three times a week for two household members for a month.
Urrego said that when compared to the “gold standard” genetic PCR tests for COVID-19, these rapid tests have a sensitivity of about 86-87%.
“The more often you do the test, the higher that number gets, which is why we asked people to test three times per week,” he said.
The tests are designed to detect the presence of the coronavirus, including variants, and tell a person whether they are positive or negative. People are encouraged to report results to either the health department or the website CovidTestChattanooga.org.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said it’s “special” and “exciting” to be able to partner with the CDC and the NIH.
“This is a really big step forward for us as we remind people constantly that the pandemic is not over,” he said, adding that while getting more people vaccinated is key, at-home testing is “another tool that we’re going to have available to you out there in the public to avoid getting sick.”
Coppinger said he is confident the county can get 40,000 participants.
Hamilton County residents who want to participate or who have questions can visit the website CovidTestChattanooga.org to order test kits for doorstep delivery or call the Hamilton County Health Department at 423-209-8383 for more information.
Test kits will also be available for pickup locally at the following locations.
· CEMPA Community Care
· Chattanooga Market
· Dodson and Southside Community Health Centers
· Hamilton County Health Department – Third Street
· Junior League of Chattanooga
· Hamilton Place mall and Northgate Mall
· Super Carniceria Loa
· Ladies of Charity Thrift Store
· LifeSpring Community Health
· Pediatric Health Care Associates
· Sequoyah Health Center
Visit CovidTestChattanooga.org to view days and hours of operation.
Contact Elizabeth Fite at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.