At-home COVID-19 tests are now available

The new at-home COVID-19 test kits are available to residents in Orange County. Heather Wieshlow/Lariat

COVID-19 cases in Orange County have skyrocketed to 85,000, which has increased hospitalizations and impacted intensive care unit capacity. The escalation of cases and declining number of ICU beds available in the area has triggered state stay-at-home orders and heightened the need for additional testing. Residents living in some of the hardest hit areas of Anaheim and Santa Ana are being given priority status to receive a free, at-home COVID-19 test kit.

The initial roll-out for the kits began before Thanksgiving, and updates on availability for testing in additional cities will be made available on a rolling basis. Orange County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Andrew Do estimates there will be 500,000 at-home saliva tests available by the end of December and more can be ordered if needed.

The County of Orange partnered with Ambry Genetics to offer the new COVID-19 saliva-based self-testing kit, which can be done at home and comes with instructions in multiple languages. Residents sign up online, then pick up a kit and put a sample of their saliva in a test tube — which is easier than the more invasive nasal swab test. Then they put the label on the test tube and mail their completed sample back to the lab in the postage paid specimen bag provided in the kit.

Test results usually take 24 to 48 hours and patients are notified via email when their results are ready, then they can access them via the CARE portal. If a patient tests positive, a health provider will call them. Officials say the results are as accurate as the nasal swab tests in detecting the coronavirus.

“Orange County is the first county in the nation to provide the saliva COVID-19 PCR test to residents,” said Do in a press conference on Nov. 17.

Residents can go to the five clinics that have been chosen to distribute the saliva collection kits and pick up a test kit in person. Or they can register on the Orange County Health Care Agency website and have a kit mailed to their homes, which takes one to three days.

Izabella Sahakian is the Operations Manager at Families Together Community Health Center in Tustin — one of the clinics distributing the at-home test kits, and that also makes them available to homeless shelters and nursing homes in the community. The clinic hosts drive-thru clinics three times a week for individuals who prefer to have the nasal swab test. The clinic has seen an increase in the demand for testing over the past week.

“We tested 150 patients last week in our drive through and gave out 500 kits since Thanksgiving,” Sahakian said.

Lisa Ramos is the Quality Practice Specialist at Family Health Matters in Fullerton, another clinic that is providing the kits. She also has seen an increased demand for testing due to the holidays, and because people have been panicking with the numbers going up.  At their clinic, the staff will bring a test out to the individual to reduce contact and make it easy to get tested.

“A person can take the test in the privacy of their home and get their result directly on the app,” Ramos said. “If they are positive, they can print the results to take to their primary care doctor.”

Joaquin Ruiz picks up one of the at-home COVID-19 test kits at Families Together Community Health Center in Tustin, CA. Heather Wieshlow/Lariat

The kits are paid for by the emergency Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and it is expected that by early next year, that all Orange County residents will have access to at-home testing kits.

One recipient of the at-home kit shared why he chose to do saliva at home testversus the nasal swab test.

“I have a sensitive nose,” said Joaquin Ruiz, one of the recipients of the at-home kits. “I thought I should do this just to make sure I don’t have COVID.”

The at-home self-tests offer an easier alternative to visiting a doctor’s office, which health officials hope will curb the escalating COVID-19 cases.