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Federal free at-home COVID-19 testing ends as holiday weekend starts

Jered Ebenreck/CDC
CDC COVID Data Tracker
A tale of two maps: CDC Community Transmission Map, used by Health Care Workers, like Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase at NMDOH, to advise at-risk patients, LEFT, (the CDC metric of risk, determined by transmission and test positivity rates, used by NMDOH and CDC to advise localities before February 25, 2022) vs. COVID Community Levels Map, RIGHT, (the current metric that triangulates transmission with hospitalization data like COVID19 admissions and ICU use). Current CDC/NMDOH guidance to the general public is determined by the metric on the right. Both metrics are still available via the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker--these are for McKinley County from August 31, 2022, reflecting reported data from 8/24-8/31/22. These maps are reflective of the previous week, not projections

Based on community levels of COVID-19, which measures the overall impact of the virus in hospitalizations and healthcare systems strain, New Mexico’s map is pretty green – indicating low levels. That’s based on the latest data from the CDC. But when you look at transmission levels of COVID, measuring the presence and spread of the virus, the map is very red. This latest data comes as we head into a holiday weekend and as the federal government stops supplying free COVID tests.

According to the updated message on CovidTests.gov, the website and phone number to order tests, “Effective September 2, 2022, ordering free standard at-home  COVID19 Rapid Tests has been suspended.” 

With school in full swing, CovidTests.gov, the federal website providing free COVID-19 tests, was suspended on Friday. Language on the website blames Congress for not providing additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile.

But state officials have relied heavily on home testing to manage the pandemic. Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said as much at the last statewide update on COVID a month ago.

"We have the tools we need," Scrase said. "We have readily accessible testing, even at home."

Meanwhile, Project ACT the free at-home testing program DOH supports, is still in place as long as supplies last. It’s a joint effort from The Rockefeller Foundation, state health departments, CareEvolution, iHealth Labs, and Amazon, and distributes tests based on zip codes in eight states, including New Mexico.

In August, the CDC relaxed its recommendations on testing for exposed students, citing concerns about the cost of maintaining test programs should Congress not authorize the funding. DOH reports only 1 in 4 of those aged 12 to 24 are boosted and up to date on their vaccinations.

Eighteen deaths from the virus were reported on Sept. 1 and New Mexico loses almost 8 people a day due to COVID. New Mexico now claims the 5th highest COVID mortality rate all time, nationally. While hospitalizations have declined in New Mexico since the end of July, they are still double the rate of just this past May. DOH says one out of three New Mexicans are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Health officials recommend N95 masks should be worn indoors, in public settings, in counties with high COVID levels. Those who still need boosters can register at cv.nmhealth.org. KUNM.org also has an updated list of COVID-19 resources.

Monkeypox and long COVID continue to raise concerns. There are now almost 19,000 cases of monkeypox nationally with 26 cases in New Mexico and 20% of COVID survivors experience a Long COVID condition.

Jered Ebenreck has been involved in community radio for 30 years--from college radio in Maryland to KGNU, Boulder to WOMR, Provincetown to KUNM in 2004. Having served in a volunteer capacity for 17 years, Jered joined the KUNM Newsroom to offer Public Health reporting and analysis while pursuing a graduate program in Public Health at UNM, with an emphasis on Social Ecology. Jered, with the help of his partner, is a caregiver for his mother. Jered can be contacted via jeredebenreck@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeredEbenreck
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