All Pima County libraries to offer free at-home COVID tests amid spike
RSV & flu cases also filling local hospitals, along with increase in coronavirus infections
Pima County is now handing out at-home COVID-19 testing kits at all of their public libraries, according to the Health Department.
The rate of new cases of COVID-19 as well as flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus infections have all been much higher than their five-year averages this winter, especially heading into the holiday season, which typically sees a spike in cases, officials said.
The “tripledemic” of respiratory disease caused the Pima County Health Department to issue a health advisory last Thursday as COVID-19 transmission reached “high” levels across Arizona and local hospitals filled with flu and RSV cases.
On Sunday, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero reported that she had tested positive for COVID via her social media.
“I encourage those in our community to get boosted and continue taking precautions and wearing a mask while indoors,” the mayor wrote in Facebook and Twitter posts. “I will be continuing to work from home in keeping with public health recommendations.”
PCHD is responding to the spike in infections by offering more free at-home COVID testing kits at all 26 public libraries, starting on Monday. Previously, only 12 libraries offered free kits, but about 52,000 had still been picked up since the beginning of September, according to the county.
Anyone can report the results of their at-home test — whether it was positive or negative — online. Health officials have trouble tracking overall COVID-19 positivity rates, or what percentage of people testing positive for the virus, because of a lack of results being reported back, Cullen said.
Eddie Diaz, the PCHD’s health disparities program manager, said in a press release that “it’s important that over the next couple of months, especially during holiday gatherings, that everyone have access to COVID-19 tests.”
“Ensuring that these tests remain free and conveniently available throughout the winter months when cases rise again is crucial in our effort to mitigate the spread of the virus in our community,” he said.
Pima County libraries have also stopped requiring people to sign up with their personal information to receive the COVID testing kits, Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Health Department, said before the Thanksgiving weekend.
PCHD recommends that people take two tests for each family member. The test kits will be available at tables inside each library or by request at the service desk.
The number of COVID cases in Arizona reported for last week was 12,987 cases with 42 deaths while Pima County 2,326 cases and two deaths during that same period, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The number of RSV cases in Arizona for the week of Thanksgiving, which are most recent numbers available, was 1,517 new cases, compared with a five-year average of 65 cases for that week.
Pima County reported 131 new RSV cases for that same period, compared with a five-year average of 9 new RSV cases for the county during Thanksgiving week, according to the AZDHS weekly RSV report.
The number of flu cases in Arizona for Thanksgiving week was reported at 3,354 new cases, compared with a five-year average of 234 new cases during that week. Pima County had 216 new flu cases during Thanksgiving week, compared with a five-year average of 39 new cases for that period, according to the AZDHS weekly flu report.
The free at-home testing kits will be available during each library’s hours of operation, which will vary the Monday after Christmas Day and the Monday after New Year’s Day.
Pima County is trying to “provide fast, free COVID-19 testing to everyone,” according to a press release and is also continuing COVID vaccination at its public health clinics and through mobile events, offering more in-person testing at the Abrams Public Health Center and providing oral medication for treatment. All those services are free, according to the county.
Michelle Simon, deputy director of support services for the Pima County Public Library, said in a press release that “expanding our distribution of free COVID-19 test kits is a vital part of our efforts to connect people with public health information and resources.”
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.