The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control will begin distributing thousands of free, at-home COVID-19 tests starting Mondayto help ease the unprecedented testing demand brought on by the latest surge in cases.
The state’s health department said it ordered more than 2 million at-home rapid antigen tests, which provide results in a matter of minutes, and so far had received about 140,000.
The full order is expected to arrive in the Palmetto State over the next few weeks.
Half of the kits will be available to South Carolina residents at DHEC’s public health departments. The other half will be sent to first responders, state government agencies, school districts, correctional facilities and long-term care facilities.
The testing kits will be available to pick up starting Monday.
Since the tests are in limited supply, each person will be given one test kit, which contains two tests. A person must be physically present to get a testing kit.
Officials ask that anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms not go into the health department to get a kit. Instead, they should notify staff and staff will bring a kit to them.
Results from at home tests are not required to be reported to DHEC.
However, health officials say the tests can help individuals make decisions in order to not spread COVID-19 to others.
SC dealing with testing shortage, backlog
Getting tested for COVID-19 has become a major headache for residents in South Carolina and across the country since the extremely transmissible omicron variant emerged and started infecting record numbers of people.
In recent weeks, affordable store-bought rapid test kits have been hard to come by and the state’s free public testing sites have been plagued by long lines and sluggish turnaround times. While most tests are still being processed within 48 to 72 hours, some residents have waited a week or more for results.
State health officials blamed the delays on large private labs, such as Premier Medical Laboratory Services, that it said had fallen behind on processing tests due to a combination of the sheer volume of samples and COVID-related internal staffing shortages.
Earlier this week, the agency apologized for the continued delays, calling them “unacceptable,” and said it was working to correct the issues. State health officials said they planned to “take every step” to hold the labs and vendors accountable for their “substandard performance.”
As it works to sort out the test processing issues at contract labs, the state health department has been looking at other ways to expand the state’s COVID-19 testing capacity and meet the needs of the tens of thousands of residents seeking tests daily.
In addition to the 2 million at-home rapid tests the agency has ordered and plans to distribute, DHEC also recently requested 1 million point-of-care tests — which unlike at-home tests must be administered by a healthcare professional — from the federal government.
The arrival of those tests has been delayed due to severe weather elsewhere in the country and the agency has not released any details of how those tests would be distributed once they arrive in South Carolina.
As of Wednesday, test seekers also could order rapid test kits directly from the federal government, which is making good on President Joe Biden’s recent pledge to ship 500 million rapid COVID-19 tests to American free of charge to help alleviate the national testing shortage.
The Biden administration this week launched a new website where people can place COVID-19 test orders with the U.S. Postal Service. Households can order up to four rapid tests free of charge via COVIDtests.gov or by calling 1-800-232-0233. The tests, which will be sent directly to homes, generally ship out within seven to 12 days, according to the site.