COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control plans to start handing out thousands of free coronavirus tests kits for residents to use at home.
DHEC said it has about 140,000 at-home rapid antigen tests that it will begin distributing on Monday. That’s a fraction of the 2 million total tests the agency has ordered, with the rest expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
Half the kits will go to public health departments, where residents can each pick up one kit containing two tests, The State newspaper reported. The other half will go to first responders, school districts, correctional facilities, nursing homes and state agencies.
Demand for COVID-19 tests has been overwhelming during the latest surge, with new infections reaching record highs because of the highly contagious omicron variant. Store-bought tests have all but vanished from retail shelves, and South Carolina’s free public testing sites have seen long lines and slow turnaround times. DHEC has called long delays in processing tests “unacceptable.”
Public health officials say South Carolina residents should not go inside health department offices for test kits if they have COVID-19 symptoms. Instead, they say, health department staff should be notified and will bring kits out to them.
Home test results don’t have to be reported to DHEC, but are intended to help users make choices that can help limit the spread of the virus.
DHEC said also recently requested from the federal government 1 million additional point-of-care tests that must be administered by healthcare professionals. The arrival of those tests has been delayed and the agency hasn’t said how those tests will be distributed once they arrive.
South Carolina residents can also order free, at-home test kits online directly from the federal government, which is shipping 500 million tests to Americans.