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Free at-home COVID tests begin to arrive across the state, but results will go unrecorded

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Stel Kline
Flowflex rapid tests from the state Department of Health being distributed from the Clay County Courthouse.

At the beginning of January, the South Dakota Department of Health used $7 million of federal funding to purchase 1 million Flowflex brand COVID-19 rapid tests. After initial delays, the department says residents can now find these tests free of charge at pharmacies, schools, public libraries, county courthouses, airports, food banks and other publicly accessible locations.

In Vermillion, the county seat of Clay County, there are three pharmacies: two inside of chain stores Hy-Vee and Walmart, and one locally owned Davis Pharmacy. Walmart and Davis both have free tests from the state to distribute. At Hy-Vee, there were no free Flowflex tests as of last week, but tests could be purchased for $14.99.

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Stel Kline
Flowflex tests for sale at Hy-Vee in Vermillion.

The Clay County Courthouse was the only other location in town distributing tests until 1,800 tests arrived at the Vermillion Public Library on Thursday afternoon.

Dan Burniston is the library director. After filling out a form indicating interest in distributing the tests at the library last month, he hadn’t heard anything until they arrived. He says at least one person has already come by to pick up a few.

The rapid tests’ arrival in Vermillion comes after a month-long surge of positive cases in Clay County, and statewide. On Jan. 19, Clay County had 126 new positive cases, which was a one-day record for the county. Since the beginning of February, active cases of COVID-19 have steadily declined in the state, though deaths with COVID-19 continue to be reported daily.

Burniston wonders about the quality of the data.

“It does seem hopefully like case numbers are on their way back down, but it’s hard to tell are they really going down that fast, or is it just because less people are either testing or tests aren’t being reported because people are taking them at home?”

At-home rapid tests are accurate indicators of COVID-19 positivity, but they are not reflected in the state Department of Health’s testing data. At-home rapid testing guidelines from the Department of Health say, “A positive test result on an at-home COVID-19 test does NOT need to be confirmed by a medical provider or reported to the SD DOH.”

The state’s dashboard reflects positive tests from at-home Vault PCR saliva tests (which are administered while supervised on Zoom) and rapid tests conducted at testing facilities.

At the University of South Dakota is one such facility, with on-site rapid testing open to students, staff and community members.

Kevin O’Kelley manages USD’s COVID Taskforce and confirms those results are relayed to the Department of Health.

“If we test you, we are a CLIA waivered lab,” he says. CLIA stands for Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, laws that dictate standards for labs to ensure quality control. When these are waived it allows certain tests to occur in unorthodox labs like on a mobile testing bus or, in this case, a conference room adjacent to the campus Qdoba.

O’Kelley says all negative and all positive tests taken here are reported to the state Department of Health. “If you do the same test at home, you are not obligated to do so.”

Not only not obligated, but not able to. In an email, the Department of Health confirms there is no method for reporting positive at-home rapid tests. O’Kelley says that although the numbers that are shown on the state dashboard don’t reflect every case of COVID-19 in the state, “at least the people involved know whether they are positive or negative,” and that to him is a blessing.

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At-home COVID-19 testing guidelines from the South Dakota Department of Health.

Currently, the USD testing facility does not have the free Flowflex tests for people to bring home. Previously in the fall, the university gave out QuickVue rapid tests, but because of January’s surge, officials are now using the remainder of those tests for symptomatic people at the site.

The list below reflects free take-home Flowflex rapid test availability in Vermillion as of Feb. 9:

  • Davis Pharmacy (605) 624-4444.
  • Walmart Pharmacy (605) 624-4106.
  • Clay County Courthouse (605) 677-6767.
  • Edith B. Siegrist Vermillion Public Library (605) 677-7060.
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