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NIH, CDC Launch Program to Provide Free Coronavirus Self-Testing

NEW YORK — The National Institutes of Health said on Wednesday that it has partnered with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide rapid, at-home SARS-CoV-2 antigen tests cost-free to communities in North Carolina and Tennessee.

The initiative — called Say Yes! COVID Test — aims to determine if frequent SARS-CoV-2 self-testing can reduce community transmission of the virus, the NIH said.

Up to 160,000 residents in Pitt Country, North Carolina and Chattanooga/Hamilton County, Tennessee will receive free supplies of Quidel's US Food and Drug Administration-authorized QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 antigen test that they can self-administer three times a week for one month. Program participants will also have the option to volunteer for an NIH study that will collect survey data to see if the frequent testing led to changes in behavior, knowledge about preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and attitudes about COVID-19 vaccination.

"This testing initiative is the first of this scale to attempt to make free, rapid, self-administered tests available community-wide in order to determine their effectiveness in our nation's comprehensive response to the COVID-19 pandemic," NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement. "We hope to gain foundational data that can guide how communities can use self-administered tests to mitigate viral transmission during this and future pandemics."

The NIH said that the two program areas were selected based on local infection rates and infrastructures, public availability of accurate COVID-19 tracking data, and existing community relationships through the NIH's Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations program. Local health departments will oversee signing up residents for participation.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute will collaborate with the Say Yes! COVID Test to use publicly available COVID-19 case surveillance data on test positivity rates, COVID-19-related illness and hospitalizations, and measurements of viral particles in sewage wastewater to evaluate viral transmission in the community, the NIH said. Publicly available data from other communities of similar size that have not received widespread self-administered tests will also be reviewed to evaluate the impact of frequent self-administered testing.