Free coronavirus tests kits at some DC-area libraries are available but going fast

Rapid, at-home coronavirus test kits that are free at some Maryland and Virginia libraries are flying off the shelves and not always available.

Libraries in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland and throughout Northern Virginia are restocking supplies as soon as they come in.

COVID-19 tests kits can be used at home, with results in 15 minutes. They’re available for purchase at pharmacy and grocery stories, but can cost upward of $15 per test, whereas the county test kits are free.

“Our take-at-home test kit program has been very popular. We can’t keep them in stock,” Christine Feldmann of the Anne Arundel County Public Library said in an email. “Customers are very eager and grateful to get a test.”

In Prince George’s County, most of the branches are currently out of stock.

“Demand has been high. We’ve distributed over 4,200 kits (8,400 tests) since the program launched,” Nicholas Brown of the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System said in an email. “We are expecting another distribution from the state and county as soon as next week.”

In Virginia, Fairfax County libraries exhausted their initial supply of kits within an hour of them becoming available last week. Thousands of tests are now available at 13 open community branches and eight regional branches but might go fast.

The 10,000 tests “sounds like a lot, but we have more than a million people in Fairfax, so we need to save them for those who need them most,” Jessica Hudson, director of the county’s public library system, said in an emailed statement.

Fairfax is making the rapid tests available to help curb community spread. The county reports 115.64 cases per 100,000 people, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, which categorizes that figure as high community transmission.

In Alexandria, meanwhile, the program “has been very popular with the community,” a spokeswoman said in an email. The Alexandria Library initially ordered over 900 test kits in mid-November, but has since ordered and received 2,900 additional kits.

Kits can be found at the Beatley Central, Barrett, Burke and Duncan library locations.

The Virginia Department of Health pilot program is providing the kits to library systems statewide through the end of the year.

“The program is certainly not intended to meet every need for COVID-19 testing, but rather to help increase access,” said Laurie Forlano, deputy director of the Office of Epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health.

Forlano said the test kits are intended for people who have been, or who think they may have been, exposed to COVID-19. People with symptoms are encouraged to send someone to get a test kit for them.

“If they’re about to be in a gathering with people, with family or where they know someone might be more vulnerable, that’s certainly an appropriate use of a test kit,” Forlano said.

Program managers are still figuring out supply and demand issues and might implement rules such as limiting the numbers of kits people can pick up. One kit per day per person, for example, is how Anne Arundel County is handling it.

“Will we be able to meet everyone’s need? Maybe not,” Forlano said. “And we just ask folks to be responsible and understand that others may need test kits as well.”

WTOP’s Scott Gelman contributed to this report.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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