The Shelby County Health Department is ordering 90,000 home COVID-19 test kits to distribute around the county.
The BinaxNOW COVID-19 Self-Test kits, which each contain two tests, will likely be distributed via community-based and faith-based organizations.
Turnaround is expected to take about four weeks, but the health department hopes to receive the kits even sooner than that, said Dr. Michelle Taylor, director of the Shelby County Health Department.
Taylor made the pitch for spending a total of $1.4 million on the kits Wednesday at a Shelby County Commission Committee meeting. Later in the day, the commission held a special called commission meeting in which they approved the expenditure for the kits.
The kits (each including two tests) will cost the county about $16.08 each. They normally retail for just under $25.
“I still think that eventually we’ll get to a point if we’re able to get test kits into households, people will do the right thing. I have faith in Shelby County and I have faith in our ability to have collective responsibility,” Taylor said. “I know that if folks have access, they’re not just testing to be able to go back to work, which I know a lot of people have to do, they’re also testing because they don’t want to go back to work if they have the chance of infecting their fellow coworkers or friends or family.”
There has been a scarcity of rapid home test kits in the community over the past few weeks, Taylor said.
Several weeks ago, the health department was able to purchase 20,000 test kits, which they distributed among the most vulnerable zip codes, those with the lowest vaccination rates and those that are underinsured or not insured. In that case, they worked with faith-based and community-based organizations for the distribution.
“We had many more requests than test kits that we were able to give out,” she said.
Commissioners Mick Wright, Amber Mills and Brandon Morrison expressed hesitancy behind supporting the purchase, with Wright saying he isn’t sure what the strategy and goals are behind the purchase. Those three commissioners voted “no,” with the other nine commissioners present voting in favor of the purchase.
Taylor responded by saying that testing is particularly important during a surge and is very important to the economy.
If someone wakes up on a typical morning “with even a hint of a symptom” they can test and determine if they should not go to work or school, thus avoiding spreading the virus and causing enough people to be out that the business or school must close completely, Taylor says. Conversely, they might be negative and still able to go to work or school.
“I would submit to your constituency that has reservations that this is the strategy behind testing,” she said.
The county’s actions took place a day after the federal government beta launched its website COVIDTests.gov, which allows consumers to request free COVID-19 testing kits. The website allows Americans to order four kits per address, to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
County commissioners and Taylor Wednesday pointed out that not every person in Shelby County has internet access or will have ease ordering through the federal government's online system, increasing the importance of the health department also distributing tests via community and faith-based organizations.
Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 901-529-2799 or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Home COVID tests in Memphis: Health Department orders 90K kits