For mental health support related to COVID-19, call the state’s toll-free 24/7 helpline at 833-986-1919 or text “COVID” at 832-479- 2135. You can also contact a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.
This month, Texas’s COVID-19 positivity rate — the percentage of tests with positive results — hit its highest level yet amid the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant.
The most recent increase in cases has been accompanied by a renewed reliance on testing. During the holiday season, Texans rushed to get home tests and testing appointments, depleting local pharmacies and straining the state’s already strained health care system. With some of the major testing sites that had opened in the early months of the pandemic now closed, Governor Greg Abbott on New Year’s Eve called on the federal government to roll out more testing sites across the state.
“In the situation we currently find ourselves in with omicron, there is a lot more demand for tests than there are tests available. They’re almost impossible to buy now in most places,” said Dr. Rodney Young, regional director of family and community medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
To address the latest testing shortages and help avoid the winter surge, the federal government has started distributing free home testing and plans to do the same with N95 masks.
The COVID-19 news cycle can get a bit hectic, making it difficult to know what help is available and to whom. Here’s the latest on what Texans need to know about the free tools available from the federal government to fight the virus.
What is the federal government’s COVID-19 home test shipment program?
Last week, the Biden administration launched covidtests.gov, where people can order rapid home antigen tests for free. The program was launched in a bid to expand testing capacity in the United States as demand for testing products soared, according to senior White House officials.
Officials said the Biden administration is focused on increasing test manufacturing and has streamlined the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization process for COVID-19 tests.
In total, the Biden administration has said it will buy one billion home tests to ship to American households, according to the White House. When the site launched last week, half a billion tests were made available to order. The cost of the tests is covered by the US bailout, according to the Department of Defense.
The US Postal Service has yet to reveal how many tests have been ordered through the new website, but an Axios-Ipsos poll released on Tuesday estimated that more than two in five people in the United States have already ordered tests from the site.
At a Friday press conference, Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said demand for testing was high in the first few days of the site’s launch.
“We already have millions of completed orders through the website, and those numbers keep growing every day,” Zients said.
How can I order the tests?
The only information required to request the tests when you visit covidtests.gov is your name and address. Orders are limited to one per household and each order can contain up to four tests. Orders should take up to seven to 12 days to ship once placed. The tests will be delivered via the US Postal Service and recipients will be able to track their orders via email.
For additional help placing an order, call 1-800-232-0233. Help is available daily from 8 a.m. to midnight Eastern Time. For people with disabilities who need help placing orders, call 1-888-677-1199 for assistance. This phone line is available weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
The tests are available for residents living in single-family and multi-family homes or units. According to the USPS, “in certain limited cases, addresses may not be recognized as multifamily by the USPS.” Also, in some cases, units that are not registered as “separate addresses may not be recognized by the system”. If you are having trouble placing your order because you believe an order has already been placed using your address, file a service request or contact USPS at 1-800-275-8777 to resolve the issue.
Tests can also be delivered to a residential post office box, according to the USPS.
What are the benefits of home testing?
It usually takes about 15-30 minutes to receive results from rapid home tests, but be sure to carefully follow the instructions that come with your COVID-19 test. Although not as accurate as laboratory PCR tests – which are able to detect the virus in smaller amounts of genetic material – home antigen tests “may be a vital piece in solving the pandemic puzzle. “, said Young. They remove the hurdle of having to plan or wait days for test results and can inspire those who test positive to isolate and prevent the spread of the virus, he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if someone tests positive at home, they should stay home or self-isolate for at least five days, and if they have a severe attack from the virus, they should s isolate for 10 days.
When should I take a home test?
Home testing can be done at any time, but there are some timeframes you may want to keep in mind.
If you have a limited supply and want to preserve your stock, you should test yourself before attending a gathering with people outside your home and if you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, Young said. The CDC also recommends testing if you have symptoms related to COVID-19 such as fever, chills, shortness of breath, fatigue or sore throat. Antigen tests work best when a person is “symptomatic and has an elevated viral load,” according to the CDC.
Whether or not your COVID-19 vaccination is up to date, it’s also recommended that you get tested at least five days after coming into close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, even if you have no symptoms, according to the CDC. . .
Where can I take a test while waiting for my delivery?
A patchwork of locations offers testing across the state, many of which are free, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. However, recent demand has limited access to testing.
Large pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS offer testing but require visitors to make an appointment in advance. And be aware that some stores and pharmacies that sell home tests may limit the number of tests you can buy. Texans can also check online with their city and county governments to see if they operate local testing sites.
The federal government announced earlier this month that it would open testing sites across the state in at least six counties. Sites have already been opened in Tarrant, Hidalgo and Cameron counties. More are expected in Bexar, Dallas and Harris counties, although it is unclear when they will open. The US Department of Health and Human Services did not return a request for comment on when these additional sites will open.
Texans wishing to visit federal testing sites in their area are asked to register in advance. Some sites may ask you to make an appointment online. Visit doineedacovid19test.com to register.
Will my insurance reimburse me for my home COVID-19 test costs?
Since Jan. 15, private insurers have been required to cover the costs of up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month per insured, under Biden administration guidelines.
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, that means a family of four could get up to 32 home tests a month for free.
Check with your insurer to see if any providers (stores, pharmacies, or online retailers) are part of their network so you can get home testing as a covered expense. Individuals with private insurance who have paid for out-of-pocket or out-of-network home testing can also submit a claim to their insurance company for reimbursement. Be sure to keep any receipts or documents to facilitate this process.
Specific advice from some private insurers can be found here:
How will the federal government’s N95 mask program work?
Starting this week, the Biden administration will make approximately 400 million N95 masks available at pharmacies and community health centers across the United States, according to The Associated Press. The masks will be free.
“This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in United States history,” Zients said at the White House press briefing on Friday. “We have already shipped millions of these masks. And over the next few days, masks will begin to be available at local pharmacies and community health centers across the country. »
Some states have started receiving and distributing masks, but it’s still unclear when they will be available in Texas.
Why is the federal government giving out N95 masks?
The program was announced following recent updated guidance from the CDC stating that N95 masks “provide the highest level of protection” against the virus compared to other types of face coverings, such as cloth masks. and disposable.
N95 masks “have more efficient engineering across multiple layers that allow them to quite reliably filter out (approximately) 95% of those things that might come through them and infect you,” Young said.
Omicron is more likely to pass through single-layer cloth masks or neck gaiters, Young said, making the N95, K95 and surgical masks the preferred choices for protection.
Young said the country was well positioned in terms of the availability of masks and stressed the importance of continuing to use them as well as incorporating other recommended practices.
“We all have, to some degree or another, the tools of social distancing, hand washing and common sense (to avoid) crowded areas, especially during times of out of the ordinary pandemic activity like it is now,” he said. . “It’s a common sense step that any of us can take.”
Disclosure: Humana, Texas Tech University, and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors . Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.