Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — In the face of nationwide competition for testing supplies and shortages of testing staff, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is pulling all available levers to support existing testing sites, to open more sites across the state and to increase access to at-home collection kits.

NCDHHS has contracted with two more testing vendors to expand local testing options and expanded the footprint of the existing 12 vendors to cover hundreds of no-cost testing sites across the state. More than a million professional rapid antigen tests, at-home rapid antigen tests and at-home collection kits are also on their way to the state. NCDHHS began shipping the initial tests from the surge order on Tuesday.

“Before case numbers began breaking records, we already were working with our vendors to secure more testing kits and testing supplies,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “With part speed and part tenacity, we continue to work to stay two steps ahead of a constantly evolving virus and crisis situation, increasing access to testing.”

With the surge, NCDHHS has ordered an additional 700,000 professional and at-home rapid test kits, bringing the total on their way to the state to more than 1 million. Priority groups for test distribution in addition to schools, health departments, long-term care facilities and health centers include farmworker camps, tribal health clinics and free and charitable clinics. A number of community-based organizations also assist with distributing tests and reaching historically marginalized populations.

In addition to the tests, NCDHHS has delivered more than 250,000 swabs, antigen kits and other testing supplies to testing partners statewide. With connections to NCDHHS vendors, 10 counties have opened new sites or will open them in the coming weeks. Counties stretch from west to east and include Caldwell, Forsyth, Franklin, Halifax, Mecklenburg, Sampson, Transylvania, Wake, Wilson and Guilford — where a mass testing site at the Greensboro Coliseum that opened this weekend through a partnership between Mako Medical, Cone Health and Guilford County. NCDHHS is in the process of requesting federal support for staffing and supplies at the Greensboro site and possibly other testing locations.

In March 2021, North Carolina partnered with LabCorp to deliver home collection kits to North Carolinians receiving Food and Nutrition Services and/or those who are disabled and experiencing barriers to getting tested.

The kits, which allow people to collect samples at home and return them for processing, are now available to all residents. To date, North Carolina has spent $1 million on this program, and another $175.8 million on community testing sites and school testing. Another $11.5 million has gone for professional and at-home rapid antigen test orders.

North Carolina’s statewide testing volume reached more than 564,000 tests last week, compared with 314,802 the first full week of December. Staffing at testing sites remains the most significant challenge. Therefore, NCDHHS is encouraging vendors to implement self-swabbing where possible, as well as exploring surge staffing solutions for local health departments. Laboratory partners continue to maintain capacity to process tests quickly.

NCDHHS provides a small percentage of the statewide capacity for COVID-19 testing through vendor contracts. The bulk of testing is supplied through pharmacies, retailers and private companies. Local health departments and health systems can work with NCDHHS to extend the number of testing sites or hours by submitting a request online or through their NCDHHS point of contact.

Hundreds of community-based events, testing locations and home kit options are listed at ncdhhs.gov/GetTested. If you know you need an appointment, book one in advance. Explore additional locations if your preferred location is busy. Please do not visit a hospital emergency department for a COVID-19 test.

Vaccines and boosters continue to provide the strongest protection against COVID-19 serious illness, hospitalizations and death. Unvaccinated individuals make up 80 percent of hospitalizations and 88 percent of COVID-19-related ICU admissions.

Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for everyone 5 and older, and boosters are available for everyone 12 and older. Go to MySpot.nc.gov to find a vaccine location near you.

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