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Health & Science

Gov. Evers Announces New COVID-19 Safety Tools

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Wisconsin residents will now be able to order free at-home COVID-19 test kits.

Updated Dec. 23 10:05 a.m. CST

Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday that his administration has partnered with a medical testing company to provide at-home COVID-19 tests for free if a requestor lacks health insurance coverage as the state set a new record high in deaths tied to the disease.

State Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said during a teleconference with reporters that health officials are concerned that fewer people are getting tested, leading to a false picture of the disease's prevalence. The DHS reported 6,852 people had been tested between Monday and Tuesday. About 20,000 people were getting tested daily in mid-November.

The governor said his administration has struck a deal with Vault Medical Services to provide free at-home COVID-19 saliva tests. Anyone can order a test through the state Department of Health Services website starting immediately.

After a testing kit arrives, users must collect a sample as a Vault testing supervisor looks on via a Zoom connection. Users will then mail the sample back to a Vault lab using a prepaid label that comes with the kit. Results will take between two and three days.

Evers' administration did not include the cost of the program in the announcement. Vault's website indicates people can order a test for themselves for $119 per kit. DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said during a teleconference with reporters that a requester's health insurance provider will be billed. If the provider won't cover the test or a requester lacks health insurance the state will pay for it, she said.

Minnesota officials have reached a similar deal with Vault on at-home tests.

Gov. Evers also announced a new app called WI Exposure Notification designed to help notify you if you have been exposed to COVID-19. 

"This app is another resource available to us and will help notify Wisconsinites faster if they have come into contact with somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19. The app uses Bluetooth technology to anonymously share Bluetooth signals with other nearby smartphones using the app,” he said.

IPhone users can activate the app in their settings without any downloads, Android users will have to download the app.

The DHS reported 2,403 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the state's total to 461,015 since the pandemic began. The disease was a factor in another 120 deaths, a new daily record. The old daily record was 107 deaths, set on Dec. 1. The disease has now played a role in 4,545 deaths.

Evers announced during the teleconference that the state will begin allowing people to download an app designed to facilitate contact tracing beginning Wednesday. People who test positive for COVID-19 can use the app to send an anonymous notification to other phones that have been in close proximity to them.

The governor sidestepped a question about whether the state should establish testing and positivity thresholds for schools looking to return to in-person instruction. Evers said schools around Wisconsin have been making their own decisions in consultation with local health officials and he's not sure a state “intervention” would change the dialogue. He added, though, that the disease doesn't appear to be spreading through in-person classes.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Aspirus Health Care announced one of its hospitals in Wausau has received its first doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine. The first shots were expected to be administered Tuesday afternoon. Health care systems began vaccinating front-line workers with Pfizer's vaccine over the weekend.

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