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The Omicron variant has many scrambling to get tested before seeing loved ones. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Philly is giving away at-home rapid COVID tests this holiday season

The first day of distribution saw the tests in high demand as the region prepares for another Christmas and New Years of COVID.

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As of Monday, Dec. 20, Philly residents can now pick up free at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits at several Philadelphia Department of Public Health vaccine clinics this week. Supply is limited, but the health department replenished stores at two locations on launch day. 

As the Omicron variant continues surging, there’s a high chance of viral spread when people are indoors in close proximity without masks. 

The variant has been found in the majority of U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. Philadelphia found its first Omicron case about two weeks ago, while Montgomery County and the state of Delaware have just announced their first cases. 

Philly Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said Philadelphia is reaching peaks seen in the spring, averaging 544 new cases per day as of Tuesday — double what the city reported last month. Bettigole is urging people to consider skipping holiday celebrations for the second year in a row. 

If a gathering still takes place, it’s recommended that everyone in the group is vaccinated (and boosted, if eligible,) and that everyone takes a COVID test before arriving. If someone tests positive within 24 hours of the event, it is best for them to not attend. 

An initial pop-up vaccine clinic was held on Saturday, Dec. 18, and the health department is hosting nine more events between Monday and Thursday, where up to 24,000 at-home test kits will be available. 

“With the rapid rise in cases we’re seeing the past few weeks and months, and going into the winter season, we’re trying to get out as many tests and making them as accessible to residents in high-priority areas like this one as possible,” Health Department spokesperson Matt Rankin said at Saturday’s event. 

“By identifying positive tests, we can help people isolate and quarantine and therefore slow the spread — and also to help encourage them to get vaccinated,” Rankin said. 

Residents can pick up test kits even if they’re not vaccinated, but Garrow hopes that people will get a shot while there. 

Supplies are limited, so free kits are restricted to two per person and four per household. 

“We’re offering the test kits at all of our pop-up clinics until Christmas,” Health Department spokesperson James Garrow told Billy Penn

Hundreds of people stood in line outside libraries and recreation centers on Monday for the kits, which each contain two COVID tests, and supplies ran out quickly, leaving dozens of people standing in the cold, empty-handed. City officials encouraged anyone who had waited for a test without getting one to try again another day this week. 

“We know that it’s increasingly difficult to find testing and testing materials anywhere in the region, so we hope that this helps alleviate some of the burden. We wish we had millions of tests to give away, but unfortunately that’s not possible,” Garrow told The Philadelphia Inquirer

Christopher Miano, a North Philadelphia resident, told WHYY News that he previously spent about $70 on a walk-in, rapid test at an independent pharmacy on many occasions throughout the pandemic, and is glad to now have a free option. 

“I’m probably gonna go to a New Year’s party, so being able to test myself, maybe before and after it, would be really convenient. And also just, like, make me feel less guilty,” Miano said. 

A full list of times and locations for the events can be found here

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