West Philadelphia residents are now receiving COVID-19 tests through the mail, following the Biden Administration’s federal program launched last month.
Following a surge in cases of the Omicron variant last December, President Joe Biden promised to mail 500 million free, at-home rapid COVID-19 tests to Americans. Since Jan. 18, individuals have been able to request up to four tests per household online at COVIDtests.gov.
Penn Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé told The Daily Pennsylvanian he approves of the federal program but encourages individuals to continue to assess at-home COVID-19 test results with a grain of salt.
"[The program] is definitely a great initiative, because we can prevent people from knowingly transmitting if they have a positive test, but it’s not foolproof because of the nature of the test and the sensitivity of the test,” said Dubé.
While rapid antigen tests are a proven testing method, they yield results less accurate than PCR tests. Penn encourages students to use on-campus testing, as PCR tests are provided at all locations, Medical Director at Student Health Services Vanessa Stoloff told the DP.
“[Penn has] ample PCR testing with ample hours, so I would encourage students to use our services, but if they can’t for whatever reason, [antigen tests] are nice to have in your back pocket,” said Stoloff.
Chris Maltz, a West Philadelphia resident of 40 years, said she was unable to find COVID-19 tests in stores this winter. Upon hearing about the mailed test program, she set out to take advantage of the opportunity to get her family tested before visiting older, at-risk relatives.
“I was probably on [the federal website] one of the first days the website was open,” Maltz said. “I went in and put in my information. It was very easy.”
Maltz received her four tests in the mail about two weeks later and described her overall experience with the federal program as positive. She noted that she recommended the program to her neighbors.
Over 60 million households in the United States have now ordered mailed COVID-19 tests, with orders being shipped within seven to 12 days. The rapid tests produce results within 30 minutes.
Biden, an honorary professor at Penn, has been criticized for not addressing the COVID-19 testing shortage, a problem he vowed to fix during his campaign. Top health officials have criticized the new initiative, citing concerns that the mailed-test program may have come too late.
The website to order at-home tests went live on Jan. 18, but not without a hitch. Some individuals found that the website initially did not recognize apartments within a single building as separate residences, according to WHYY.
Philadelphia tests are shipped from a warehouse in Upper Chichester Township, one of 43 warehouses nationwide.
Nick Casselli, president of the Philadelphia area American Postal Workers Union #89, said that he was proud to participate in the federal program.
“It's our service, that's what we’re there for. To get to the American public what they need in times of crisis,” said Casselli.