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A federal effort to distribute 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests is just one of many to increase surveillance of the wildfire spread of omicon. (Shutterstock)

Michiganders can now get up to four free COVID tests for each household under a federal website that went live on Tuesday, a day earlier than expected.

This story also appeared in Bridge Michigan

The site, www.covidtests.gov, routes users to a U.S. Postal Service ordering site, where they can type in their address.

“Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days,” according to the site.

Demand for tests has surged — often leading to empty shelves at pharmacy retailers and “out-of-stock” messages online as omicron-fueled COVID has spread throughout Michigan and the country. The website is part of an effort by the Biden administration announced just before Christmas to distribute 500 million free tests to Americans.

In a related effort, most private insurers must cover at-home tests — up to eight per month for each member are to be covered by large group or commercial insurance, under a new federal rule.

In addition, on the state level, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services last week shipped test kits to 18 libraries in Calhoun, Clare, Newaygo, Oceana and Saginaw counties and the City of Detroit. It’s a much smaller effort; each site received just 300 COVID-19 at home tests, but the department vowed to ship more to more libraries “in the coming weeks.”

The tests delivered to libraries are offered on a first-come, first serve basis and are limited to one test per person, or up to five tests per household.

Such efforts continue a shift toward more individual responsibility in tracking cases to help reverse the pandemic’s spread, said Kerry Ott, spokesperson for the LMAS Health Department, which covers four counties in the eastern Upper Peninsula.

Overwhelmed by omicron, county and state health departments have all but ditched broad-ranging contact-tracing efforts, focusing instead on congregate settings such as schools, prisons and long-term care facilities.

“We are moving to a personal responsibility in our response and toward individuals doing their own testing, isolation and contact tracing,” Ott said.

Community-based sites still operate around the state. (A list is here.)

The government response is an effort to help families keep more at-home tests on hand for when they need them, rather than having to rush in crisis to find an at-home test at a pharmacy or a testing site. If people test positive and do not have serious illness, they should isolate at home and alert anyone they had close contact with two days prior to symptoms or two days prior to testing positive, Ott said, though she acknowledged there is no guarantee people will do that.

“At the same time, we can’t keep up with this,” Ott said of public health efforts to track COVID’s spread. “It’s yet again a call to the public: ‘We need your help. Vaccinate, mask, and — if you know you’ve been exposed or you have symptoms — test,’” Ott said.

The CDC recommends anyone with close contact with a COVID-infected person should be tested at least 5 days after they last had close contact, or if symptoms develop.

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