Free at-home COVID-19 tests available through state

·5 min read

Dec. 31—Free at-home COVID-19 tests have been available to Missouri residents since late May, though fears of the new omicron variant have only recently spurred many to take advantage of the opportunity.

The public's sudden demand for testing primarily has to do with the fact that at-home tests on shelves of stores in the Joplin metro area are scarce, primarily due to people testing themselves and loved ones prior to large holiday gatherings. Such scenes are playing out statewide, with empty store shelves also in larger metro areas such as Springfield, Kansas City and St. Louis.

The omicron variant has led to Missouri's daily average case levels rising to heights not seen since January, according to the Associated Press.

Rather than pay $25 or more for a kit from an online vendor — Walgreens.com, for example, or Amazon.com — officials with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services are encouraging people to get an at-home kit mailed to their home for free.

"Testing remains a key tool to keeping Missourians safe," DHSS officials said in May, when the free kits were first announced to the public. "Testing is not only for those who are symptomatic, but important for periodic surveillance — especially when interacting with vulnerable populations and crowds."

Only one testing kit can be ordered at a time, and an individual can only receive another one after submitting the first test to a state lab, state officials said. This prevents individuals from ordering multiple tests, which is what has led to a lack of test kits on store shelves to begin with.

How to order

Missouri residents can order tests on the state's website by going to health.mo.gov/communitytest.

The top portion of the page is dedicated to free COVID-19 testing sites, which require you to leave your home and get tested inside your vehicle. For Joplin-area residents, these free tests take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Thursday on the north parking lot of the Joseph Newman Innovation Center, which is located across the street from the Joplin Health Department building on Fourth Street.

For the free at-home tests, scroll down to the bottom of the page. Click the purple-colored "Order Your Test Kit Here" button to begin the process. This will take you to a different website: www.picturegenetics.com.

Because there is a limited amount of kits available each month — something that's only become problematic over the past 30 days or so, as public demand has dramatically increased — order limits have been reached for state-funded kits at the end of December. New orders for kits can be placed beginning Saturday.

President Joe Biden announced on Dec. 21 that his administration would help distribute 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests to the public. Residents can also call a hotline number at 626-434-3596 for additional information or instructions.

The testing agency, Fulgent Genetics, says it can test for the omicron variant.

How they work

The DHSS website links to YouTube videos that summarize a mailed kit's details in both English and Spanish.

When you receive the state-funded kit, go online to www.picturegenetics.com/activate to activate the test kit. Once ordered, the kit arrives in two days and is good for six months.

Each kit comes supplied with a nasal swab, a stabilizing solution tube, a specimen bag, a sealing sticker and a return shipping bag.

Pre-test, the video instructs you not to rinse out your nose, but blowing your nose using an unscented tissue is OK. Also, be sure to wash your hands before and after testing.

After reading the test's easy-to-understand instruction card:

—Open and insert the stabilizing solution tube into the punched hole located at the bottom of the kit's insert card. Be careful not to touch the solution.

—Next, open the nasal swab — careful not to touch the sterile end — and insert it into a nostril "until it contacts what feels like the top of your nasal cavity," the video instructs. It's an action that "should not lead to any discomfort."

—Rotate the swab inside the nostril up to five times using a circular motion with a "firm yet gentle pressure" while keeping in contact with the nasal membrane at all times.

—Repeat this action in the other nostril using the same swab.

—Place the swab upside down into the stabilizing solution tube and break the swab stick off where it is scored, snapping naturally in half. Then cap the tube shut.

—After checking for any leakage, place the sterilized swab tube into the specimen bag and place the sealed bag it inside the kit's box, resealing it with the sealing sticker.

—The completed kit needs to be shipped within 24 hours or "as soon as possible" after the test swabbing "due to the sensitive nature" of the tests, the video instructs. Tests sealed inside the prepaid FedEx return envelope can be dropped off at any local FedEx collection site; there are more than a dozen locations in Joplin and Webb City. Tests should be dropped off between Monday and Thursday, but not on Friday or during the weekend.

—Test results, which are produced in a lab, are provided via email within two days.

The test, state officials caution, "is a onetime assessment, and will only show if the individual is infected at the time of the test. For those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, testing is highly recommended. Those who have had significant contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19 should also consider being tested."

State officials say the best time to test would be five days after possible exposure. But if you have symptoms or feel sick, you should test as soon as possible.

Kevin McClintock is features editor for The Joplin Globe.

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