Home test kits shown at Huntington High School where COVID-19...

Home test kits shown at Huntington High School where COVID-19 test kits were given out on Jan. 2. Credit: James Carbone

A new national government study showed racial and economic disparities in the growing number of people using at-home COVID-19 tests. 

The study, released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that while there was a “rapid increase” in U.S. at-home test use, it was lower among persons who identified as Black, had lower incomes and had a high school education or less. 

“Providing reliable and low-cost or free at-home test kits to underserved populations with otherwise limited access to COVID-19 testing could assist with continued prevention efforts,” the study said. 

Health experts on Long Island said there needs to be a stronger effort to engage underserved communities who may not have easy access to the at-home testing kits. 

        WHAT TO KNOW

  • A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed racial and economic disparities in people using at-home COVID-19 tests. 
  • Health experts say there needs to a better effort to engage underserved communities in accessing the at-home tests.
  • COVID-19 cases are increasing again but not as rapidly as in past surges, state statistics show.

“The lack of availability of at-home rapid tests, particularly during the omicron surge in December and January may be one reason for these populations to use the tests less frequently,” said Martine Hackett, director of public health programs at Hofstra University.

“The tests, even when available, needed to be purchased, which could have been an additional barrier. Even when free tests were available from the federal government, this was mainly through online ordering and the lack of awareness of the availability of these test kits [and the limit of 4 per household] may have contributed to less use,” she said. 

The information for the study came from surveys of more than 418,000 adults in the United States. 

It examined the time period between the delta and omicron surges of COVID-19, roughly the end of August through mid-March. 

Hackett pointed out that in-person COVID testing was available for free in sites across Long Island and the rest of the country, including providers' offices. She noted the study does not indicate if people used these in-person tests instead of at home, because they were used to that process. 

“Overall, this study does point to the need to have rapid tests more readily available to hand out to communities that are at higher risk, along with the guidance on how to use them and under what conditions,” Hackett said. 

The study said at-home test use was highest among persons who identified as white, between the ages of 30 and 39, with household incomes higher than $150,000 and with postgraduate degrees. 

Researchers acknowledged the federal government began distributing free at-home tests in January. 

Sean Clouston, associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University, said acquiring the at-home tests required time, effort and resources which are not always available to people in underserved communities. 

“They were often sold out or unavailable and, therefore required a lot of effort,” he said. “Sometimes you had to order ahead or stockpile … The result of efforts to roll out health care services in public health when resources are limited or services are hard to find tend to be large inequalities favoring those with more resources.” 

Both Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman have distributed at-home COVID-19 test kits at events in recent months. 

Suffolk County officials said they have worked with nonprofits, faith-based groups and local municipalities to distribute the kits to vulnerable populations such as seniors, veterans, and people receiving Meals-on-Wheels. They have also provided kits to be distributed at food pantries through Island Harvest and Long Island Cares. 

A spokesman for Blakeman said the administration has distributed test kits in neighborhoods in the center of the county with higher minority populations. Distribution events were held at the Nassau Coliseum, Tobay Beach and Eisenhower Park. 

Nassau County-based Long Island FQHC, which helps low-income, underinsured and uninsured residents as well as patients with Medicare and Medicaid, said it is working with the county government to get another 10,000 at-home tests to distribute to patients, according to president and chief executive David Nemiroff.

Meanwhile, the rate of new COVID-19 infections in New York and across Long Island is slowly increasing, likely due to the highly-transmissible omicron subvariant BA.2. 

But the numbers are still much lower than during the peak of the omicron wave in January when that daily percentage was over 20%. 

On Long Island, the seven-day average percentage of positive test results over the last three days was 2.41% on Saturday, up slightly from 2.31% on Friday and 2.20% on Thursday. 

 "I urge New Yorkers not to take for granted the progress we have made in getting vaccinated, there's still more work to do to guard against future case surges,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement released Sunday with the latest figures. “Make sure your friends and family are fully vaccinated and boosted, and consult with your doctor about getting the vaccine for your child."     

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