State health officials say self-administered COVID-19 tests can help drive down the number of positive test cases for the coronavirus. It’s one reason — a big reason — they were happy to announce New Mexico residents can now order such exams that will yield results in 24 to 48 hours.
“The more cases you identify, the more people you can isolate, the more contacts you can identify and quarantine,” Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the state Human Services Department, said during an online news conference Tuesday.
“Even if cases go up a little bit, you can quickly find those people who are spreading it without knowing it and actually push the curve back down,” he added.
The state is contracting with Vault Health, which recently made similar agreements with other states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, to provide the home test kits. Vault Health is known for its health care products for men.
Vault’s website says individual home test kits cost $119 and that its lab has the capacity to handle 30,000 COVID-19 tests per day.
In New Mexico, the free tests are available to residents regardless of whether they are symptomatic or have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Funding for the initiative will come from both federal and state sources, said Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor.
“Generally, the tests will be covered by insurance, but the state will pay for tests that aren’t otherwise covered,” she said.
Jodi McGinnis Porter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said the state does not yet have a “cost breakdown” for the initiative.
The governor has long said more New Mexico residents need to be tested for the virus, which has infected more than 132,000 people in the state.
“This is a very, very promising development,” the governor said in a statement, referring to the in-home tests.
Scrase said the state has been talking about offering self-administered COVID-19 tests for months as opposed to “going to a giant testing center at 1 in the morning to get your place in line and do a nasal swab in a car.”
Those tests involve a deep swab sweep into a nostril, a procedure a health care professional once described as being somewhere between a divorce and a colonoscopy.
By contrast, the self-administered approach requires an oral swab of saliva, a procedure Scrase said he hopes “New Mexicans will welcome.”
Dr. Tracie Collins, secretary-designate of the state Department of Health, said it’s too early to say how many of those test kits will be requested or needed.
“We really have to track demand and have not had a chance to do that yet,” she said. “We will keep an eye on that.”
Any state resident with access to online videoconferencing through Zoom can receive a test at home, self-administer the exam with an online testing supervisor and mail the sample back for laboratory processing.
Residents who want to order a home test kit will need photo identification, an email address and the ability to connect via online videoconferencing with a testing supervisor while self-administering the test.
They also will be required to share basic identifying information: name, date of birth and phone number. While testing is free, people will be asked for insurance information. Once the test is received from Vault, the person will have to log on to the company’s virtual waiting room on Zoom to connect with a testing supervisor while self-administering the saliva sample.
The test will then be sent for laboratory verification via a prepaid UPS package. Within 24 to 48 hours of arrival at the lab, results will be available to the patient. But test pickups and deliveries may be affected by UPS holiday hours.
Scrase said as the state collects data on the home testing results, it will be included in all COVID-19 reports.