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County lands about 4,000 take home COVID-19 tests

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | February 1, 2022 7:00 AM

Lincoln County is receiving about 4,000 of the 650,000 at-home COVID-19 tests secured by Gov. Greg Gianforte in January.

Jennifer McCully, public health manager, said local officials were limiting tests to one per household given the possible demand in a county of about 20,000 residents. Tests will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the county annex on California Avenue in Libby and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays in the Eureka annex.

The county health department plans to distribute some of the tests through the schools and large local employers to cut down on foot traffic in public buildings, McCully said.

In a press release announcing the influx of tests, the state Department of Public Health and Human Services said the CareStart tests are self-administered and return with results in about 10 minutes. Those testing positive can report the results to the state using the QR code located on the informational, one-page pamphlet that accompanies the device or fill out the department’s home test result form online.

State officials urged residents who learn they are infected with the coronavirus to contact their primary care provider, alert close contacts and isolate for five full days. They should wear a mask for another five days when around others and avoid any indoor gatherings as well as travel, according to the press release.

State officials recommend getting vaccinated to prevent severe illness or death from COVID-19, which has accounted for 75 deaths and 263 hospitalizations in Lincoln County.

Given the limited quantity of tests at the county health department, McCully recommended residents take advantage of the federal government’s test distribution program via the U.S. Postal Service.

Each residential address and residential P.O. Box in the U.S. is eligible to receive a shipment of four free at-home tests, according to the Postal Service. Residents can place their order at www.covidtests.gov. The package typically ships within seven to 12 days.

The test kits arrive in Lincoln County from Helena as health officials revamp contact tracing protocol. In an announcement made on social media and via press release, the county health department indicated it would drop its efforts at universal contact tracing.

Officials cited the shorter incubation period of the omicron variant, large number of mild or asymptomatic cases owing to vaccination and the number of confirmed cases missed because the infected individual took a home test and failed to notify public health workers as the main reasons for the shift.

McCully said the department took its cue from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists among other organizations it has looked to for guidance during the pandemic. Other state and local governments have made a similar move in recent weeks, including Virginia.

She said the agency could continue to contact trace under certain circumstances, particularly those involving nursing homes and congregate living facilities.

“We may still do that in high risk settings,” McCully said.

The department continues to contact residents it knows have tested positive for the virus, she said.

In the announcement, department officials stressed that the change in contact tracing policy reflected the immediate situation on the ground in Lincoln County. A new variant, increase in hospitalizations or change in the severity of local cases could spark a return to universal contact tracing.