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Orange County Announces Plan For At-Home COVID-19 Test Kits

The Orange County Board of Supervisors announced plans to distribute at-home testing kits for COVID-19 on Nov. 17, partnering with Ambry Genetics to produce and release 11,000 testing kits by next week. 

Beginning Nov. 23, residents of Orange County will be able to register online for an at-home testing kit, which will be mailed out to registered residents or be available for pick up at select community clinics. Testing kits will contain a FedEx return label that, if mailed out by 1:30 p.m., will allow results to be received within 24 hours.

This initiative is being funded by the CARES Act and testing kits will be available to all residents of Orange County, free of charge. The Board of Supervisors, who announced this plan on Nov. 17, is anticipating an expansion of 500,000 kits by the end of the year. 

“In an effort to make testing more accessible, timely, and convenient, Orange County Health Care Agency has partnered with Ambry Genetics to bring COVID-19 testing to communities most at risk for contracting the disease,” Supervisor Andrew Do said in a statement released on OC Gov.

The testing kits are PCR tests, a type of diagnostic test that can show whether or not a person has been infected with COVID-19. Unlike antibody tests, it does not show whether or not a person has been previously infected.  

“These at-home COVID-19 tests will eliminate the need for someone who is feeling sick to go to a testing site or clinic, which in turns means that fewer people are exposed to the virus,”  Supervisor Doug Chaffee said in a press release.

County government officials have been tracking the spread of COVID-19 and found that while some infections have occurred at restaurants and stores, most have occurred by public and private gatherings.

With the upcoming holidays, officials are advising against gatherings altogether. Government officials encourage virtual gatherings. However, if families are adamant about gathering during the holidays, they have advised and recommended a limit of two households and gathering outdoors. Officials recommend testing before and after the event with the at-home testing kits. 

“The risk that our health system can be overwhelmed is very high. This is a time for us to be really cognizant of what we’re doing and be responsible, take steps to protect ourselves and to protect those we love, and also by controlling the spread of COVID-19 we help to protect our economy, as well,” Do said in a press conference. 

Do has advised residents to take a test two to three days before a gathering. This recommendation has raised some concerns among scientists and public health officials.

“Where testing doesn’t work is if you do what so many young people are trying to do: is on a Thursday they go and get tested so on Saturday if they are negative, they can all gather and not worry. That’s actually a false sense of security, the test result was for Thursday. It says nothing about whether you are still negative on Saturday,” Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in an interview with reporters. 

Though Do agrees with Ferrer, he believes Orange County’s testing capacity can be expanded to be more accessible and work to prevent cases from surging. Orange County plans to eventually expand the program to make test kits available at places such as public libraries and city halls, Do told NBC 4 City News Service.

Orange County has not yet reported the costs of integrating this program. 

Orange County transitioned back to the purple tier in response to a rise in cases across the county and state on Nov. 16. This is the most restrictive tier in the Blueprint for a Better Economy, meaning many restaurants and businesses have moved their services back outside rather than reduced capacity indoors. Businesses like retail stores have also reduced their capacities to 25%

In response to the county’s move back to the purple tier, Supervisors Do and Don Wagner have also announced the city’s plans to allocate $1 million from the CARES Act fund to assist restaurants with their outside dining areas. Since the restrictions came during a period of seasonal transitions, county officials anticipate restaurants will need heat lamps, lighting and canopies in order to maintain their services during the colder nights.

“The pandemic has forced restaurant owners to get creative to keep their businesses open. Outdoor dining has served as a crucial tool for many restaurants across Orange County to stay afloat. As Orange County moved back to the Purple Tier yesterday, the state’s most restrictive tier, this grant program will help those restaurants stay open for businesses this winter while also making sure they are adhering to California Public Health Officials’ guidance to keep their customers safe.” Do said at the board meeting on Nov. 18


Amy Duong is a City News Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. She can be reached at amynd@uci.edu.