CVS Sign

Photo by Kyle Szymanski

A sign at CVS on Second Street in Brentwood notifies shoppers that no COVID-19 testing kits are available at the store.

REGIONAL Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed an executive order in an effort to increase access to COVID-19 resources, particularly access to at-home testing kits and in-person testing sites.

The COVID-19 Emergency Response Bill has a price tag of $2.7 billion, according to a Jan. 8 press release issued by the governor’s office. Nearly half of that figure — $1.2 billion — will go to increasing “testing efforts through expanded hours and capacity at testing sites, distributing millions of COVID antigen tests to local health departments, clinics, county offices of education and schools, and more.”

This focus on expanded availability of testing comes in the wake of the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in mid-November and its rapid global spread.

As of Jan. 11, the California Department of Public Health reported an increase in statewide cases over the past eight weeks, with nearly one in four people (23.1%) tested yielding a positive result. Locally, Contra Costa Health Services reported a 68.9% increase in new daily cases compared to the previous week as of Jan. 12.

This increase in the number of cases has led to testing sites being overwhelmed and stores struggling to keep at-home testing kits on shelves. The demand for the test kits has gotten so high that at least one store has begun to answer the phone by preemptively informing callers they are out of the kits, according to employees at the CVS on Second Street in Brentwood.

The order signed by Newsom seeks to resolve issues with access to both at-home test kits and in-person testing sites, according to the press release. The deployment of more than 200 California Nation Guardsmen to 50 testing sites across the state, including the Antioch Community Center, and extended hours at state-operated sites are meant to increase their capacity to provide testing while another part of the bill targets price gouging practices for at-home tests.

“Helping to improve access to these tests at a fair price, the order generally prohibits sellers from increasing prices on COVID-19 At-Home Test Kits by more than 10 percent,” the press release explains. “The order also gives additional tools to the California Department of Justice and Attorney General’s Office, District Attorneys and other local law enforcement to take action against price gougers.”

School testing programs have also helped to increase access to reliable at-home testing, with 9.6 million tests distributed to schools since early December, according to the press release. Many local school districts participated in first-come, first-serve test kit distribution events leading up to the new semester, although proof of a negative test was not required for students to return to school.

Although Contra Costa Health Services does not endorse or recommend a particular brand of at-home test kit, a public information officer from the department stated via email that for reliability, people should use tests that boast approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A list of at-home kits authorized for emergency use by the FDA can be found at https://bit.ly/3K8Dmkr

A list of state-operated and commercially-operated testing sites can be found at https://bit.ly/3qmwB6B

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