NM aims to boost at-home virus testing - Albuquerque Journal

NM aims to boost at-home virus testing

The COVID-19 saliva test kit from Vault Health is a self-administered test. Samples are returned via expedited shipping, and results are generally available 24 to 48 hours after a sample is received. (Courtesy of Vault Health)

SANTA FE — It took just a few minutes but a lot of saliva.

Albuquerque resident Kathleen Raskob this week became one of the thousands of New Mexicans to try the state’s new at-home testing option for COVID-19.

The test kit arrived the day after she ordered it, she said. Signing into the website and spitting into a tube — while supervised by a medical worker over Zoom — took about 10 minutes.

“They make it very, very easy for anyone to do,” Raskob, executive director of a nonprofit education group, said in an interview.

New Mexico health officials have made at-home testing a critical part of their strategy for boosting the number of COVID-19 tests conducted each day in the state. Testing is a key, they say, to isolating the disease and limiting its spread.

The rollout of the new tests by Vault Medical Services, a New York-based company, ran into a few hiccups last week. Some participants were asked to provide a credit card, for example, even though the test is free — a technical error the state said was fixed.

A state spokesman said the Department of Health had “not heard of any backlog or issues with completing the ordering process.”

Raskob said she was in the virtual “waiting room” for about five minutes.

A handful of people who either talked to the Journal this week or reported their experience on social media said they had no significant problems.

About 8,700 New Mexicans took or ordered the tests in the first week since they were available — a relatively small portion so far of the state’s average of about 13,900 tests a day. New Mexicans can also sign up for drive-thru testing — either by nasal or mouth swab — at sites throughout the state.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration is aiming to push New Mexico’s daily testing to about 20,000 a day — a figure they hope at-home tests will contribute to.

Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said the expansion to at-home testing is a helpful step. But participants in any COVID-19 test, he said, should assume they’re positive for the disease and quarantine until they get their results back.

“In a pandemic like this,” Mitchell said, “everything we do matters. There’s not one magic bullet, unfortunately.”

New Mexico’s public health rules have incentives designed to encourage broad testing.

One of the state’s reopening criteria, for example, is a test positivity rate of 5% or less. Any county that reaches the goal can allow indoor restaurant dining at partial capacity and relax some business restrictions.

New Mexico updates a color-coded map every two weeks to determine whether each county is under red, yellow or green restrictions based on statistical targets.

The number of at-home tests conducted so far “is significant but we’d like to see more testing of all types to try and move our counties from red to green,” Department of Health spokesman Jim Walton said.

Raskob, for her part, said she was eager to try a testing option that didn’t involve a nasal swab.

She ordered her test Dec. 23, and it arrived the next day, she said. She logged into the Zoom web conferencing program and took the test this week.

“It’s easy,” Raskob said, “and it’s not like having something stuck up your nose.”

The only real challenge, she said, was working up enough spit to reach the line on the tube — a sentiment others shared with the Journal, too.

The Vault tests are free and available to New Mexicans regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms or come into contact with someone with the disease. Results are usually available 24 to 48 hours after arrival of the sample at a laboratory.

There’s no need to schedule an appointment. But the person taking the test will need a computer with a camera and internet connection to handle the video visit with a testing supervisor, who will walk you through the test.

The test must be monitored.

State officials say there’s no limit on the number of tests you can order.

The test doesn’t have to be used immediately, but the state encourages people to use it quickly to avoid waste.

For people who need their results by a certain date, Vault suggests ordering the test at least six days ahead of time.

Photo identification and an email address are also required. The test will ask for the participants’ health insurance information, but they won’t be charged if they lack insurance.

Once you’ve completed the test, you must send it back through a prepaid UPS package.

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