New Hampshire began offering to send free, rapid COVID-19 tests to the homes of its residents on Monday. Countries like the United Kingdom have been doing it for months.
So why isn’t Massachusetts?
Gov. Charlie Baker says there are simply not enough test kits — a problem he blames on the federal government’s approach to easy-to-use self-tests.
Others say the reason is a lack of political impetus.
While the Baker administration has bought tons of rapid COVID-19 tests for schools, prisons and nursing homes, the self-administered kits — which provide results within 15 minutes — can be elusive and relatively expensive for the typical resident.
The cheapest, the popular Abbott BinaxNOW test kit costs $23.99 for a two-pack; however, amid the surge in demand during the delta-driven wave this fall, quick test seekers across the country are often greeted by empty shelves.
Health experts say rapid tests can be a useful safety tool, especially during the holiday gathering season. even she seem to be effective in detecting the new ommicron variant. And on Monday, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu launched a first-in-the-nation statewide program that offers Granite Staters free home delivery of eight Quidel rapid tests, while the test stock of 1 million is valid.
Also available in some Washington state counties, the program was launched through a partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and targets communities with high COVID-19 infection rates. On Monday, CDC data showed that New Hampshire has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the country.
Asked about the wider distribution of rapid tests during a GBH radio appearance Monday afternoon, Baker blamed the federal government’s “slow move” to make rapid tests more available.
“I’ve been raising this in a number of conversations with the White House for months,” Baker said. “And part of it had to do with the US viewing rapid tests as a medical device, not a public health measure, and putting them through a much more complicated and difficult process than necessary.”
As ProPublica recently reported, testing companies have complained that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process has been too rigorous and delayed. The administration of President Joe Biden announced in October that it would provide additional funding to help companies with the process, after investing $1 billion to increase the supply of rapid tests by December.
Still, some experts say it’s too little too late, a criticism that echoes in Massachusetts.
“The problem isn’t that we don’t have access to supplies,” said state representative Tami Gouveia, an Acton Democrat and lieutenant governor candidate who has criticized the Baker administration for relying too much on PCR testing.
Gouveia led a letter in August urging Baker to invest hundreds of millions of dollars of the state’s federal COVID-19 relief funds in rapid COVID-19 testing (state house leaders are still working to spend several billion on federal pandemic relief and state aid budget surplus).
“Had Governor Baker heeded our calls, we could have provided adequate supplies so that our residents could protect their health and the health of their families and our communities using rapid antigen testing,” Gouveia said. “Instead, Governor Baker chose to delay and ignore the advice of public health experts.”
Baker said Monday he would “definitely consider distributing”. [rapid tests] everywhere,” but that the state must “fight for the supply” it already gets for its programs in schools, nursing homes, prisons, and community care facilities.
While unfamiliar with New Hampshire’s new program, Baker noted that the Granite State—with a population one-fifth the size of Massachusetts—does not have a similar “Test and Stay” program for schools, which he credited for storing “somewhere about 140,000 school days” of personal learning.”
Baker also suggested that prices for the tests have not yet fallen as much as expected.
“There’s a market problem here,” he said of GBH. “In most parts of Western Europe you can buy these for a dollar on the corner, and we haven’t reached the point in this country where we have that kind of supply available.”
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