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Arizona lawmaker urges better COVID test distribution for rural, tribal areas

An Arizona lawmaker is expressing concern over details of the federal plan to distribute free COVID tests, saying it is not well designed for tribal and rural and communities.

“While I applaud the Biden Administration’s initiative to increase access to COVID-19 testing for American families, I am concerned that the execution will leave behind some who live in rural, tribal, and underserved communities,” Rep. Tom O’Halleran, a Democrat representing the 1st District, said in a press release.

The Biden Administration launched an initiative this month to provide every family with free rapid COVID-19 tests. Every household with a working residential address can order one set of free at-home tests from USPS.com.

The orders are limited to one per residential address, including P.O. boxes and physical addresses, according to the U.S. Postal Service website. The order will include four individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests, and they’re expected to start shipping in late January

O’Halleran sent a letter to the COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator Jeffrey Zients at the White House, requesting the team take additional steps to ensure that the needs of rural and tribal families are not overlooked.

“I am calling on the White House to prioritize sending rapid test kits to tribal governments to distribute on tribal lands, as well as targeted deliveries of these kits to the health centers that care for rural families,” he added.

In his letter, O’Hallern said that within Indigenous communities, a lot of families share P.O. box addresses. This means that extended family members, including elders, often use the same address to get their mail even if they are not living in the same household.

“Consequently, several families will count as one family unit and thus receive significantly fewer tests than needed,” O’Hallern said.

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“Additionally, many Native American households are multi-generational, with children, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents living under the same roof,” he added. “The four test per mailing address solution will not work for most Native Americans residing on tribal lands.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez shared the same concerns about the free COVID-19 rapid testing as O’Halleran among Indigenous communities.

On the Navajo Nation, many multi-generational families are living under one roof across all 110 chapters and many often share one mailing address, Nez said in a statement.

“We appreciate the Biden-Harris Administration’s proactive approach by providing free at-home test kits,” he said. “But we need more action to address the unique circumstances for tribal nations and families.”

As a potential solution in tribal nations, he requested that the administration immediately prioritize supplies of rapid test kits to tribal nation governments, who would then distribute them to those living on tribal land.

Rural communities face similar challenges. O’Halleran said it’s been reported that rural addressing is not being accepted by the U.S. Postal Service’s free testing site.

“Many rural Americans must travel long distances to community-based testing sites or to any local pharmacy or retailer that may have a supply of rapid tests,” O’Halleran said in his letter.

The vaccination rates in rural America lag behind those in other communities, he added, and this means that the latest COVID-19 wave could potentially overwhelm rural health facilities.

“Rapid tests will prove a vital early-detection tool to limit the spread of COVID-19 in rural communities,” O’Halleran said.

As a potential solution for rural communities, O’Halleran requested that the Biden Administration provide targeted deliveries of rapid tests to community health centers, sole community hospitals, and other federally qualified health centers that provide for the health care in rural America.

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“This will ensure that these test kits make it to those who currently lack easy access to COVID-19 testing resources,” O’Halleran said in his letter.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran.


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