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State uses $7 million in federal funds to distribute 1 million COVID tests

The Flowflex COVID-19 antigen test
South Dakota Department of Health
The Flowflex COVID-19 antigen test.

The South Dakota Department of Health is using $7 million in federal funding to purchase 1 million rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests that residents can pick up for free.

South Dakota obtained the Flowflex Antigen COVID-19 tests for $7 each. They sell for $10 in stores.

"We are expecting them to arrive in the state later this week, and they will immediately be dispersed around the state for residents’ usage," said Daniel Bucheli, spokesman for the Department of Health.

Pickup locations will be listed on doh.sd.gov/COVID.

"We trust people to do the right thing and take only what they need for themselves and their families," Bucheli said. "Equal distribution, based on population size and need, is a top priority for DOH."

The tests are arriving the same week that South Dakota and the U.S. are experiencing record levels of COVID infections as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads. The country is also seeing the most hospitalizations ever, and the vast majority of patients are unvaccinated.

A new study shows that rapid, at-home tests aren't as good at identifying Omicron when compared to identifying past variants, but Flowflex is the most sensitive at-home test for Omicron and all other COVID strains, according to News Medical.

The test requires a nose swab and takes less than 30 minutes.

Chad Thury, a doctor with Avera Health in Sioux Falls, says testing is crucial to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

He said people with positive at-home tests should isolate. The tests are more likely to have false negatives, he said, so people with symptoms who test negative should then go get the more accurate PCR test from a health-care facility.

The state Department of Health will also continue to offer free Vault spit tests, which it began distributing by order through the mail in December 2020.

Nearly 12,000 Vault tests have been ordered, Bucheli said.

The Vault tests are highly accurate but take several days to process since they must be shipped to users, shipped back to a lab and then processed. Vault's website says its processing time is taking longer than usual — likely due to an increased demand from the Omicron variant.

Starting Saturday, people with insurance can also purchase any at-home test and have up to eight of them covered per month. Insurance companies can either cover the cost up front or require reimbursements.

Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.