State to distribute 2.1 million rapid COVID tests to hard-hit communities
Baker says administration also negotiating for ‘bulk cheap’ purchasing agreement for more tests
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said the state will make 2.1 million rapid COVID tests available to more than 100 lower-income communities as part of the effort to curb the spread of the virus. The test kits will be distributed to communities this week, Baker said at a State House press briefing on Monday morning.
“Like vaccines, these rapid at-home tests are potentially a game-changer as we continue to battle COVID here in the Commonwealth,” Baker said.
Rapid tests for COVID, which can be done at home and deliver results in 15 minutes, have become an increasingly popular tool in the effort to contain the pandemic, but they aren’t cheap – about $25 for a package of two tests – and availability at pharmacies in some areas has been spotty.
“The big problem, in many cases for many people, have been costs and supply, which have been major barriers,” said Baker. The tests, purchased by the state from California-based iHealth Labs, will be distributed to the 102 cities and towns with the highest estimated percentage of households with income under the federal poverty rate.
Baker emphasized that vaccination is the single best way to combat COVID, but he said rapid tests are “another tool in our arsenal” and can be especially helpful as people look to attend holiday gatherings with people outside their household.
Marylou Sudders, Baker’s health and human services secretary, said the state paid $10 million for the 2.1 million tests, a price that works out to less than $5 per test. Sudders said the state will seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Baker demurred when asked what price the state was aiming for, citing ongoing negotiations with test kit manufacturers. “I do think it’s important for them to be as cheap as possible to the communities and to the people of Massachusetts who are engaged in this effort,” he said.
Asked whether Massachusetts would move toward a system like in Colorado, where any resident can request a testing kit, Baker said the plan is to help local communities secure tests and then distribute them as they see fit.Baker framed the new rapid test initiative as part of a new normal – a world in which we contend with COVID, but don’t have to be ruled by it in the way that was true a year ago.
“We’re in a far different position than we were at this time last year,” he said, citing the widespread availability of vaccines and booster shots and the state’s high vaccination rate – Baker said 92 percent of residents 5 and older, the population eligible for shots, have received at least one dose of vaccine. “We have far more tools at our disposal to fight COVID this time,” he said. “Kids are staying in school. Our small businesses are open for holiday shopping. Families are gathering this month to celebrate the holidays. But COVID isn’t going away anytime soon.”