The Bulletin Board

State’s supply of free, at-home COVID tests exhausted in less than 24 hours

By: - November 30, 2021 12:27 pm
A computer generated image of the coronavirus

The federal program will send a total of 5 million rapid tests this month to states that submit requests. (Getty Images)

This story was updated Nov. 30, 2021, at 1 p.m. to include comments from the state Department of Health and Human Services and again at 5:30 p.m. after the state corrected the number of tests available. 

Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu enthusiastically announced residents would soon have access to 1 million at-home rapid COVID-19 tests delivered to their door by Amazon at no cost. It was actually 850,000 tests, and they reached far fewer than half as many people.

Less than 24 hours after state officials shared the website for ordering tests, they were gone, according to a message that appeared once a New Hampshire ZIP code was entered. Jake Leon, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the tests came in sets of two and people were able to order four sets, equaling eight tests. But the website did not appear to offer a choice and defaulted to eight tests per order.

The Say Yes! COVID Test program, which is a partnership between state and federal health agencies, warned early in the day Monday that it was having trouble meeting demand from New Hampshire residents and asked people to try to place an order again in an hour. Tiffany Mathews of Keene was among them when she logged on around 11 a.m. After more tries, she was able to place an order about an hour later. 

“We want to help decrease the disruption this (pandemic) is bringing to our community,” she said. Mathews had been buying at-home tests – when she could find them – locally at $20 each. “We want to reduce illness and long-term health complications and death that can occur – anything that we can all do to make this better for our communities.” 

A positive result would tell her she needed to seek immediate health care for herself or her family, she said. If the result came back negative and she or her family were showing symptoms, Mathews said she’d follow up with a PCR test and follow safety protocols like masking and staying home.

Shortly after Mathews successfully ordered tests, the website said they were gone.

“Thank you for your interest,” a message said. “We have had an overwhelming response to the initiative and have already exhausted the limited supply available for home delivery.” 

Calls to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is working with state health officials, referred calls to the state Department of Health and Human Services, which could not be immediately reached for comment. 

The governor’s office, which issued a statement Monday announcing the website to order the tests, said the state is investigating options to make more tests available and noted that residents have other testing options in the meantime.

“With demand for at-home test kits high, the state’s initial supply of kits have been ordered and are in the process of being delivered to homes across New Hampshire,” said spokesman Brandon Pratt in an email. “Our team is working with our federal partners to determine the possibility of replenishing supply, however, as always community-based testing remains available.”

When Sununu announced the program last week, he called it an “exciting opportunity” and said New Hampshire was the only state to make the tests available to all residents. He also said there would be a separate supply of 150,000 tests available to schools upon request. Leon said 50,000 tests have been made available to schools, shelters, and correctional settings.

But schools, like Sununu’s office, encouraged residents on Monday to visit the Say Yes! COVID Test website to order tests. 

The Kearsarge Regional School District sent the website link to families, saying in a letter the Department of Health and Human Services had let it know the tests were available. The district told families they could receive eight tests.

The department also announced the testing program on its Facebook page Monday, and nearly 600 people shared the post. Within two hours of it appearing, some people replied, saying they had gotten a message that the tests were gone.

Mathews said the process of ordering tests Monday reminded her of trying to schedule a vaccine when they first became available. Now she’s hearing from friends and family that getting a booster dose in addition to testing is a serious challenge. 

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]