New Mexicans will be spitting a lot at the start of 2021.
The state Department of Health is forecasting that more than 66,000 at-home COVID-19 saliva tests will be conducted through Feb. 2 under a highly touted program designed to increase testing in New Mexico, which officials have called an “essential tool” in the fight against the virus.
“The estimates assume that the number of test kits ordered is equal to the number of test kits processed,” DOH spokesman James Walton wrote in an email. “New Mexico and Vault [the company the state is contracting with to provide the home test kits] are in the ramp up period for the initial four weeks of the statewide program and we are working together to refine our estimates over the next month.”
The self-administered tests, which are being offered free of charge, provide residents an alternative to what can often be long lines and long waits for an in-person test.
Residents will need just a handful of things to take the test: photo identification, an email address, access to online videoconferencing through Zoom and a fair amount of saliva to spit into a tube.
The tests are available to residents regardless of whether they have any symptoms or have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
Once ordered online at learn.vaulthealth.com/nm/, the at-home test kit is mailed via expedited shipping. After receiving the test, residents must log on to a virtual waiting room via Zoom to connect with a testing supervisor while collecting the saliva sample. Residents then mail the sample back for laboratory processing in a prepaid UPS package. Results should be available within 24 to 48 hours of arrival at the lab.
Though testing is free, people will be asked to provide insurance information if they have insurance.
“We need more New Mexicans to get tested,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement when the state announced the launch of the program last month.
“We’ve worked hard every single day this year to make testing fast, easy and accessible to everyone,” she said. “We ensured, from the very start, that cost would not be an obstacle for New Mexicans needing a COVID-19 test.”
The governor also said testing is one of the best ways for New Mexico to reopen its economy.
Just over 2 million COVID-19 tests have been performed in New Mexico since the start of the pandemic, according to the state, which has reported more than 146,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,500 deaths related to the virus.
The level of public health restrictions in New Mexico is determined under a tiered and color-coded system, which measures the level of risk of COVID-19. The test positivity rate is one of two metrics the state uses to determine each county’s level of risk.
“We can drive down county positivity rates, help more businesses and workers get safely back on their feet, and keep more New Mexicans healthy,” the governor said last month. “But it all starts with you, and it starts with getting a test. This is a very, very promising development.”
The launch of the program got off to a rocky start when the Vault website initially asked for credit card information.
As of Wednesday of last week, more than 9,000 tests had been ordered online.
The state is providing the tests under a $4 million contract with Vault Medical Services, P.A.
According to the company’s website, Vault’s specialty is “knowing men, and what makes them tick.” The company’s website also states that its goal is “to give men an easier way to identify and treat the symptoms of low testosterone.”
A spokesman for the governor said it would be “erroneous” to assert that’s all Vault does.
“Lots of different companies are putting their resources to creative use amid the pandemic,” the spokesman, Tripp Stelnicki, wrote in an email last week. “If you’re looking at their website you’ve also seen that Vault has ‘teamed with Infinity BiologiX and Spectrum Solutions to offer saliva testing in your home for the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,’ after the FDA granted emergency use authorization for at-home saliva tests. The state of New Mexico will continue to make every effort to make COVID-19 testing more accessible.”
Vault did not return a message seeking comment.