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State plans to distribute free, at-home COVID-19 tests, open up hospital beds

By: - January 28, 2022 10:35 am
At-home covid test

The state is planning to distribute 200,000 free, at-home COVID-19 tests beginning in February. Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner

LINCOLN — The state plans to distribute 200,000 free, at-home tests for COVID-19 and is working to open up more acute hospital beds in the state as a surge in coronavirus cases continues.

The so-called “Hospital Decompression Program” would allow the move of up to 98 patients out of hospitals when they no longer require acute care, but are too sick to go home, thus freeing up hospital beds.

Facilities in Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island are being lined up, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Mission Health Communities of Omaha is one of the contractors, offering 16 to 36 beds.

In addition, the state is finalizing a contract to distribute 200,000 free, at-home COVID-19 tests to the state’s local health departments. Kits will be placed at several locations for pickup.

Nebraskans would perform the tests on their own. They can obtain help through a video call. DHHS will have the option to buy more tests, if needed, through the state’s contractor, eMed.

A DHHS spokesman said Thursday that the eMed contract, once finalized, will pay $2.5 million for 100,000 tests, or $25 per test. If more tests are purchased, the contract price will increase. Spokesman Jeff Powell said multiple federal grant funds are being used to purchase the tests.

The free tests should be available by the first week of February. The alternative hospital beds are expected to be ready by Feb. 1.

DHHS also announced this week that the Nebraska Public Health Lab is working with private testing facilities to help handle the surging demand for tests.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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