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At-home COVID tests: why they’re important, and why they can fall short

Rapid at-home COVID test kits have become hard to find locally.
S Junker
Rapid at-home COVID test kits have become hard to find locally.

Rapid at-home testing kits for COVID-19 are seen as an important tool in helping to stop the spread of the virus, and they've been flying off store shelves locally.

But some local health officials are concerned that cases will go under-reported with the kits.

At a recent Chatham health board meeting, member Richard Edwards criticized the rollout by Governor Baker’s administration of some 2 million test kits to 100 communities in the state.

"It's kind of ridiculous just dumping all of these test kits randomly without a whole lot of education," Edwards said.

Reporting a positive at-home test is not required, but people who test positive are urged to get a PCR test, which will be tracked.

The state health department says people should isolate for 10 days until no longer contagious.

Martha’s Vineyard custom crafts a solution

Health officials say the at-home test kits are increasingly important in the effort to slow the latest COVID surge fueled by the Omicron variant.

But the lack of reporting for at-home tests has implications for tracking the virus, and as well as contact-tracing efforts.

On Martha's Vineyard, the Boards of Health together with Island Health Care created the website rapidtestmv.org, a website for patients to submit home-test results, so cases can be better tracked.

Vineyard hospital Chief Nurse Claire Seguin says rapid tests may be imperfect, but they are beneficial, particularly when results are reported.

"This is the only way we are going to be able to keep up with the testing demand, and we're really counting on our patients to do the right thing," Seguin said.

In addition to a form for reporting a positive result, the website has information on isolation and quarantine guidelines and contact information for the local Boards of Health.

In an email to CAI, Tisbury health agent and Boards of Health spokesperson Maura Valley said that information entered on the website will allow contact tracing to benefit the community. “We feel it’s important to speak with positive individuals to let them know how to take care of themselves and the people around them that might be at high risk,” Valley wrote.

Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.