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Many Without Access To Federally Purchased COVID Tests Due To Household Test Limit

By Jamaica Ponder

CHICAGO (CBS)-- This week Americans can order a set of four rapid COVID tests from the federal government. The tests are being distributed by the United States Postal Service, and getting one is supposed to be easy.

While this initiative is aimed at keeping Americans healthy and safe, local health officials have found gaps that residents can easily fall through — potentially leaving swaths of Americans without access to these federally purchased tests.

Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health in the Health Behavior and Health Education Department, noticed this herself when she went to go register for her tests. She took to Twitter saying, "While I am grateful for the tests, I was unaware that it was 4 per HOUSEHOLD. As a family researcher, this racially disproportionate policy will lead household dense families (often of color) to make tough + risky decisions others won't, especially as essential workers."

She said she was shocked to learn the test limit.

"Mainly because I am one person living in my household and I felt incredible privilege, the incredible [disparity] between me and other people who I know have four or five or even more people within the household," Dr. Anderson said.

Dr. Anderson sees the program as reflective of the major disparities in access that fueled the spread of the virus in densely populated and/or urban areas.

"That is one of the reasons why you saw those racial disparities. So again, whether it's by house or just the area that folks are in you've got to focus on how one single approach might ripple in varying ways with different communities," she said.

She said a public data could make the distribution of tests a more comprehensive program, reaching far more Americans than going off of addresses alone.

"We're going to face a problem where folks perhaps are not documented and living in a space with other people. You're going to have a cousin who needed to stay, at one point, with a family member and they're transient so they don't have residency. We get that and I'm not saying that there is a perfect way," Anderson said.

Anderson said our systems are fragmented, they do not accurately represent the entirety of the American public, especially those with marginalized backgrounds.

Instead of just relying on where people live, she thinks the government should use more data to find where people are.

"What I think we can do is layer what we do know…we take records from public schools, from the census, from these public spaces— things that are readily available. We know that… any one singular way that you try to roll this out is going to have problems," Anderson said.

She said her critique is a necessary part of developing systems to serve our entire country, not just a select demographic.

"How can we help our government to understand these are opinions steeped in fact? These are desires. You're hearing people saying I desire, I want to be well. I want to be healthy. I want to be safe. So taking those opinions that are steeped in fact and amplifying that— that's what we're doing," Dr. Anderson said.

In addition to mailing tests, the federal government is working to make more free tests available through private health insurers. 

Earlier this month, the Biden-Harris administration began requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of up to 8 tests a month. Though, supply issues may cause delays in distribution. 

For those without private insurance and unable to order through the USPS website, the government is also sending up to 50 million tests to community health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics across the country. All tests will be available to community members for free.

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