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QuickVue® SARS Antigen test / Photo courtesy of Quidel® Corporation

Some Hamilton County residents will soon be able to rapidly test themselves for COVID-19 at home through a new initiative from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Hamilton County is one of two counties in the nation selected to participate in the program, which is launching in Pitt County, North Carolina, and coming to Hamilton County in mid-April, according to a news release.

"As many as 160,000 residents across the two communities will have access to free, rapid antigen tests that they can administer themselves to use three times a week for one month," the news release states.

The goal of the program is to determine if frequent, self-administered COVID-19 testing helps reduce community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. The institutes will provide the at-home test kits and will be studying the effectiveness of the initiative, which is called "Say Yes! COVID Test."

"Reliable and widely available testing is a critical part of our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. Regular screening with at-home COVID-19 tests can strengthen our prevention efforts," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said via the news release. "Combined with efforts to increase vaccinations, this important initiative will help us understand how best to utilize these new at-home tests to reduce viral transmission rates in communities."

The opportunity to participate in the program will be offered through the Hamilton County Health Department. Health department officials said via emailed statements that they are currently working with state and federal partners on the logistics and that more information will be given to the public in mid-April.

Participants will be able to order their test kits online for home delivery or pick them up at a local distribution site, and an online tool that also is available as a phone app will provide testing instructions, information to help understand test results and text message reminders about testing, according to the release.

Participants will also have the option to volunteer in an NIH-supported research study that will collect additional data through surveys. The surveys aim to determine whether frequent self-administered testing has made a difference in behavior, knowledge on preventing spread of the virus and thoughts about COVID-19 vaccination.

"This testing initiative is the first of this scale to attempt to make free, rapid, self-administered tests available communitywide in order to determine their effectiveness in our nation's comprehensive response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Dr. Francis Collins, director of the health institutes, said in the news release. "We hope to gain foundational data that can guide how communities can use self-administered tests to mitigate viral transmission during this and future pandemics."

Engagement efforts are underway to ensure that vulnerable and underserved populations are aware and able to benefit from the opportunity, the release states, which also says Hamilton County was selected due to "local infection rates, public availability of accurate COVID-19 tracking data, existing community relationships through the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations and local infrastructure to support the project."

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