(Karen Pulfer Focht)
During a special session Wednesday, Shelby County commissioners approved $1.5 million for the purchase of at-home COVID testing kits as cases continue to spread throughout the county.
Shelby County’s weekly test positivity rate has decreased since last week, but residents are still testing at a positive rate of 35.9%, continuing the county’s streak of the highest positive testing rates for COVID since the pandemic began.
The Shelby County Health Department has found obstacles continue to exist for vulnerable populations, who have limited accessibility to rapid-testing kits for a variety of reasons, including pricing.
Health officials identified four zip codes as accounting for the biggest 14-day testing rates per 100,000 residents while several other areas continue to have low vaccination rates.
COVID-testing sites throughout Shelby County have reached 100% capacity and are not able to meet the current demand, prompting health officials to find ways to increase the county’s testing capacity.
Testing becomes important. . . if you are able to socialize testing in such a way and make it more convenient in such a way that people getting up on a typical morning feel even a hint in their system, they can take a test.
– Dr. Michelle Taylor, director, Shelby County Health Department
Through talks with the Tennessee Department of Health, Shelby County health officials sought to purchase rapid-testing kits to distribute among community partners, and several weeks ago ordered 20,000 kits, which were handed out to nine priority zip codes.
“I will tell you that we had many more requests than test kits we were able to give out. We gave out 300 test kits to each organization that qualified and we have a waiting list now, ” said Shelby County Health Director Michelle Taylor.
With assistance from the state department of health, the county health department seeks to purchase 90,000 rapid-testing kits from BinaxNow, with officials assuring commissioners that they will be equitably distributed throughout the county.
Shelby County health officials also anticipate receiving at-home testing kits through the federal government as the Biden Administration recently approved free testing kits for American residents, and orders are currently available through the U.S. Postal Service.
Shelby County initiated talks on at-home testing kits before the federal announcement but Taylor added that their kits will help fill in any gaps for those needing testing.
Once approved, health officials said they would quickly purchase the kits in anticipation of delays in shipping for distribution as soon as possible.
“Testing becomes important, particularly during a surge, and it actually is very important for the economy because if you are able to socialize testing in such a way and make it more convenient in such a way that people getting up on a typical morning feel even a hint in their system, they can take a test,” said Taylor.
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