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As COVID cases spike, so does demand for tests in Pima County

Pima County's free distributions of at-home rapid COVID test kits are now on hold due to a local and national shortage.
Posted at 9:52 PM, Jan 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 00:15:26-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — With a line wrapped around the building on Tuesday, the Pima County Health Department gave out more than 2,600 free at-home rapid covid tests at the Abrams Public Health Center.

But a nationwide shortage of those at-home rapid tests means similar giveaways in the county are now on hold.

Pima County has ordered more tests from the federal government, but it’s unclear when they could arrive.

County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said Tuesday’s giveaway was only possible because of El Rio Health sharing some of its kits it received from the federal government.

“Right now we are in a lull, I will admit that,” Cullen said during a virtual press briefing Wednesday. “It may seem like it’s difficult for people to get at-home testing. I wanna reassure people we are doing everything we can to make sure that we will once again be able to distribute at-home testings for free once they become available.

“We continue to have dialogue and discussions with the other people that are obtaining and receiving tests from other federal sources.”

On the positive side, Cullen says there are enough rapid tests to keep testing regularly at county schools, and county-run testing sites are keeping up with demand for now.

“I’m gonna take the opportunity to brag about Pima County,” Cullen said. “We are one of the few counties in the state that have continued to use our resources—primarily at this point through the American Rescue Plan as well as grant money that we’ve received—to stand up and support Pima County test sites. Our test sites have enough tests, the ones that are supported by Pima County Health Department… We have no indication that has sought a testing at one of those test sites has been turned away because a lack of availability.”

Cullen also says county sites have not had delayed results, as other communities across the country have dealt with.

Omicron is becoming a more dominant in Pima County—accounting for 40% of sequenced county cases from Dec. 19 to Jan. 1.

Now 28% of the county’s new cases are breakthroughs, involving those fully vaccinated but not necessarily boosted.

Cullen reports that 20% of at-home test kit users are reporting their results to the county, a higher number than expected considering many people stow the kits away for a day when they feel sick, and many who do test do not report negative results.

As the Omicron wave of cases grows locally, Cullen hopes that progress could be on the horizon.

“What we need is that curve to go down, so our hope is that we will see that,” she said. “But what that means is that the next 2-4 weeks are very significant weeks for our county.”