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W.Va. to offer free at-home COVID-19 tests

CHARLESTON — State officials announced Wednesday another option for West Virginians to get tested for COVID-19 without leaving their homes.

Gov. Jim Justice said the state would pay for COVID-19 tests that use saliva instead of nasal swabs that can be sent to residents’ homes instead of requiring them to travel to a free drive-thru testing location.

“I’m excited today to announce that we are now offering free in-home COVID testing,” Justice said. “It’s brand-new … I encourage people to get tested.”

West Virginia is partnering with New York-based Vault Health to offer the at-home saliva test free of charge to state residents. Residents will be able to go to coronavirus.wv.gov, click on the “Free Testing” button, and click a link to apply for the at-home test, regardless of whether the resident has health insurance or not.

Once the resident receives the test, they will have to log in to a Vault Health website and follow the instructions of a supervisor who will explain how to administer the saliva test. Once completed, the person will send the sample back to Vault Health in a pre-paid package. The turnaround time for results can be anywhere between 24 and 48 hours.

“They mail you a kit, you get on some kind of call with them where they can walk you through and see you go through this process, and if it is done properly you mail the kit back and get you a test result back very quickly,” Justice said.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar, said the test can be done over the phone if the resident doesn’t have access to a computer. The goal is to continue to increase access to testing for West Virginians. According the Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia is 11th in the country for the number of COVID-19 tests conducted.

“As we look at methods to get more capability and more capacity to more people in a more convenient way, this is the start of continuing to evolve that strategy,” Marsh said. “We are going to continue to test very aggressively.”

According to Vault Health’s website, the test requires the person to not eat, drink, chew, or smoke anything 30 minutes prior to taking the test. Those with issues creating saliva, stroke victims, and children under the age of 4 should not take the test.

The Vault Health saliva test would normally cost $119 per test. That price was reduced last week from $150 per test. The test, developed with Infinite Biologics and Spectrum Solutions, has approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In a statement, Vault Health founder and CEO Jason Feldman believes their test is accurate and less intrusive than current testing methods that involve nasal swabs to collect samples for testing. He also said the no-contact test helps protect frontline healthcare workers.

“Our goal at Vault is to make sure that every American is able to get a test when needed, without barriers of cost or location,” Feldman said. “We’re excited that we are able to make testing more accessible for West Virginians that need results fast. Through our platform that facilitates a supervised testing program, we can provide a quick, pain-free test for men, women, and children that is accurate and provides fast results safely.”

Minnesota also uses Vault Health for its free at-home testing service. According to Minnesota TV station KAAL, the Minnesota Health Department said more than 153,000 saliva test kits had been requested by Nov. 12, requiring the state to put a temporary limit on the number of requests. Both Justice and DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said the state would be monitoring how many at-home tests are requested and make changes accordingly.

“From the standpoint of limitations, we’ll have to watch,” Justice said. “We’ll have to monitor how we are able to get these number of tests out.”

“At some point we may end up having to cap this, but we certainly hope not,” Crouch added. “Our goal is to test often and test everyone who wants a test. We’re 11th in the country, but we want to be first. We want to be the best at testing to identify as many people as we can to make sure we reduce community spread as much as possible.”

The at-home tests are just another option available for people wishing to be tested for COVID-19. The testing page on the DHHR Coronavirus Dashboard shows 158 entries for daily testing locations, weekly recurring testing locations, and testing locations at pharmacies.

State officials hope that by adding the at-home option, they can take stress off county health departments, the West Virginia National Guard, and state health workers in order to more effectively move personnel to help in order areas of the pandemic.

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