Coronavirus in DC Area

DC to Begin Distributing Free Rapid COVID Test Kits

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Starting Wednesday, D.C. will start handing out rapid test kits to residents.

That's the good news. The bad news is that demand is extremely high, and supply will be limited.

The District already has several ways to get tested for COVID-19 for free, including at public testing sites. One site, at Farragut Square, had a line wrapping around the park Tuesday morning.

Not far away at the Shaw Neighborhood Library, people waited in the cold to pick up free self-test kits. The District has been offering those kits for months now; people can pick them up, perform the tests themselves and then drop off their samples at their choice of 36 D.C. libraries. That's known as the Test Yourself DC program.

But health officials say some people have been hoarding those test kits.

"Obviously, [we're] are seeing a tremendous demand .... Everybody wants to get tested, right, especially with the test-yourself program, which is super convenient," said Patrick Ashley of the D.C. health department.

"We also see that people will come and take five, 10, 15 samples at a time. And so we want people to be friendly to their neighbor," he said.

Fewer than 50% of those test kits are ever returned, Ashley said.

Omicron accounted for 73% of new COVID-19 infections last week in the United States, according to federal health officials.

Ashley says the District has plenty of the self-test kits, so there’s no need to take more than you can use.

But the new rapid test kits will be in limited supply. The District will begin handing out those on Wednesday at eight public libraries, one in each ward.

There will only be 1,000 kits available each day at each library, and they'll only be given to D.C. residents.

On Tuesday, the District reported another record high for COVID-19 cases, an average of more than 1,200 each day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"And so every day we have seen an increase in cases, and so we expect that to continue," Ashley said.

He says the availability of the rapid tests kits will increase over the next few weeks.

"D.C. has had one of the most accessible public testing programs in the country, right?" Ashley said. "We have 36 locations now that you can test yourselves at. We used to say it was within a 20-minute walk of almost anyone in the city. And now it's even less than that."

As for how to use the self tests and the rapid test kits, it's important to follow the directions.

"It's really important that we make sure that we use good swabbing technique, really getting around the whole inside of the nose on both nostrils," Ashley said.

The District is looking for volunteers to help assemble those test kits, as well as for landlords to provide retail space for more pop-up testing and vaccine sites.

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