The Mills administration says it is open to applying for federal money to deliver free at-home rapid COVID-19 tests to Maine residents, similar to a pilot program in New Hampshire.

Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In New Hampshire, the program delivered 800,000 at-home tests to residents in early December, running out of supplies in just 24 hours. The federally funded effort – a pilot program under the National Institutes of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – has shipped 5.5 million tests to select areas of the country, but is already out of funding, according to the Washington Post.

Gov. Janet Mills cast doubt on the feasibility of such a program during a media briefing Wednesday. But administration spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said Friday that Maine would “absolutely” be open to participating in free at-home delivery of rapid tests if the Biden administration expands the pilot program or re-starts it.

“Her immediate concern is ensuring that Maine would be able to stand up a program that delivers results for Maine people, taking into account the availability of tests and the rural nature of the state,” Crete said in an email response to questions. “However, the governor is open to ideas on how the state can expand the availability of testing, alongside the federal government, and her administration will continue to work to do so.

During Wednesday’s briefing, Mills said the state is working to expand testing but questioned the feasibility of sending free tests to residents and indicated it was not being considered in Maine.

“Home delivery? It’s not like delivering pizza,” Mills said.

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The program has proven so popular in New Hampshire that Gov. Chris Sununu said the state would use its own funds if necessary to continue it. New Hampshire, like Maine, is in the midst of a record-breaking surge of COVID cases. The home tests were delivered by Amazon.com trucks.

“The demand was so high, and I really believe it is a key aspect in pushing back on transmission of this virus,” Sununu said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Other states that have participated in the pilot program include Hawaii, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington.

Whether the program will be restarted or expand is unclear, but the issue of delivering rapid tests to homes was part of a contentious exchange between a reporter and White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday. Psaki said sending free tests to everyone across the nation would be costly, but public health experts criticized that stance, arguing that making tests free and as convenient as possible will help end the pandemic.

In a tweet Tuesday, Psaki said the Biden administration has a sweeping plan for testing, with details to be released later.

“Our focus is on ensuring everyone in America has access to free testing, whether at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, community testing site or at home. We are continuing to scale up our testing program to meet demand and ensure people who want tests are getting tests,” Psaki said in a tweet.

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A shortage of tests and a spike in demand because of holiday travel and rising case numbers have forced some in Maine and other states to wait days for appointments, potentially getting sicker or spreading the virus.

Crete said testing availability is already a key part of Maine’s strategy to combat COVID-19.

Maine reported its highest single-day case count Friday, with 2,148 new cases, as the pandemic continues to intensify. The Maine National Guard is being brought in to help hospitals with capacity, and the federal government also approved Maine to be part of a program where health care professionals come to Maine Medical Center in Portland to help with the COVID-19 surge.

“The governor believes that widely available, accessible, and affordable testing – both rapid and PCR – is a crucial strategy to detecting COVID-19 and reducing its spread, and she shares the concern of Maine people about the availability of testing, particularly rapid antigen tests,” Crete said.


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