The state has purchased 250,000 rapid COVD-19 antigen tests from Abbott Labs to help meet the high demand for tests, Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday.

The tests will be distributed to Walgreens pharmacies, health care sites, schools and congregate care settings. They will be available by appointment but at no charge.  

The tests will be distributed this month and in February, the Mills administration said in a release, but it was not clear Friday exactly when they will be available, how they will be distributed or how to make an appointment to get one. 

The rapid tests will support the testing of Maine’s health care workforce, school staff, and students through the pooled testing program, as well as staff and residents of congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, long-term care facilities and correctional facilities. They also will increase the availability of free tests for Maine residents administered at Walgreens pharmacy locations across the state, according to the release.

“Widely available, accessible, and affordable COVID-19 testing is crucial to detecting COVID-19 and reducing its spread,” Mills said in a statement. “With Maine, like the rest of the nation, experiencing a shortage of tests, this purchase will increase the supply and availability of tests across the state and help keep Maine people healthy. My administration will continue to work hard to expand testing options, including looking at options to distribute tests directly to Maine people.”

Jackie Farwell, spokesperson for Maine Department of Human Health and Services, said the additional tests will be distributed to sites already participating in COVID-19 testing, and will be used to provide additional appointments for the general public at Walgreens and for staff, patients and residents at the other facilities. 


The tests will not be distributed equally among locations, Farwell said, but rather, “in various amounts based on existing inventories and the populations served at each type of setting.”

During a visit to Maine Medical Center on Friday, Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said workers at Walgreens pharmacies will distribute test swabs at drive-thru windows and collect those samples, with results from the free tests expected within an hour.

Testing in Maine and across the country has been difficult for many weeks, particularly as people raced to get tested before gathering for the holidays and as the omicron variant has continued its rapid spread among vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. 

Appointments for COVID-19 tests at many retail pharmacies in Maine are booked out weeks in advance.

At other local testing sites, demand is incredibly high and long wait times mean not everyone can get in. And retail supplies of rapid tests that can be done at home are selling out of stores almost as soon as they hit the shelves. Those tests have been hard to find, both in stores and online. In addition, the tests can cost more than $10 per test and are often sold in pairs, making them cost prohibitive for some. 

Another testing challenge is getting results in a timely fashion. Depending on where the results are processed, results of a standard PCR test, considered the most reliable test, can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.


According to Farwell, the state also has raised concerns about the availability of testing appointments resulting from staffing constraints and said the state is working with pharmacies to expand access to testing.


Mills also visited Maine Medical Center on Friday, checking out its COVID ward and emergency room with the hospital’s president, Jeff Sanders.

She said the visit was intended to provide her with an update on efforts to care for an influx of patients in recent weeks and also to thank health care workers. She said the best way for Mainers to express their thanks to the doctors, nurses and other workers caring for the patients is to get vaccinated and boosted.

“Maine is grateful,” she said while speaking with media after the tour.

Mills also visited a vaccination site Friday afternoon to see how those shots are being administered. She said vaccinations are how Americans battled past epidemics of smallpox and polio, and said getting a shot to help ward off the disease is common sense.


“It’s no different than putting on a scarf in cold weather,” she said.

The state also is working to expand other testing options, according to her administration.

The state, in partnership with the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the Maine Army National Guard, is offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing at the Augusta Armory starting on Monday. Hours and dates will vary and are by appointment only. 

The state also is supporting an expansion of appointment-only testing at Westbrook Fire and Rescue.

Both the armory and the Westbrook sites are offering PCR tests. 

Also, Curative, which is offering at least 250 tests per day at the Portland International Jetport, will begin offering testing at Cross Insurance Arena on Thursday. 

Together, nearly 900 additional PCR tests will be available per day in addition to the rapid antigen tests to be administered by Walgreens.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this story.

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