In the 1996 holiday movie “Jingle All the Way,” Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad square off as fictional dads trying to get their hands on Turbo Man action figures for their sons. But the toys are sold out all over town. The dads get desperate and more than a little deranged.

A shopper at Ellsworth Walmart felt similarly Saturday morning when informed that the shelf of COVID-19 rapid tests had been emptied just moments before. The Walgreens on High Street was sold out, too. The next available drive-thru appointment was days away and outside the recommended testing window. Fa-la-la-frustrating.

With rising COVID-19 numbers, winter sniffles and holiday plans pushing up demand for at-home testing, finding the tests is challenging enough. The cost also adds up, with one popular brand selling for $14-$24 for a two-pack, depending on the store. Shouldn’t this be easy at this point? Other countries have made at-home testing free and readily available.

Recently the president announced plans to address the problem. He directed the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury to issue guidance by Jan. 15 that will require private insurers to reimburse customers for the cost of at-home tests. But that still leaves Americans on the hook to find the tests, pay the cost up front and navigate a reimbursement process.

For those people not covered by private insurance, free at-home tests will be made available at thousands of COVID-19 testing sites, health centers and rural clinics. The U.S. is on track to quadruple the supply of rapid at-home tests compared to the volume available in late summer, according to the Biden administration, which has directed billions toward the effort. That’s little consolation, however, to those struggling to find a test now. It’s also a blow to the overarching public health goal of reducing transmission of the virus over the Christmas holiday.

A large proportion of Maine’s population is fully vaccinated, and yet community transmission of the novel coronavirus remains high.  Individuals in need of urgent care for any reason may find themselves facing delays as COVID hospitalizations strain existing resources. Meanwhile, many Mainers have dropped important precautions such as masking in public areas. Nearly two years into the pandemic and with vaccinations available, they are over it.

That makes it more important than ever to eliminate barriers to tools such as at-home testing.

Reprinted from The Ellsworth American.

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