LANSING — Doing some last-minute holiday shopping?
Don’t forget COVID-19 tests. You may very well need them this season.
Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations climbed for weeks and hit 1,300 on Wednesday, the most since late February. That number, however, is much lower than the more than 4,600 hospitalized patients statewide around this time last year, state records show.
- April 28, 2022: Got COVID? Michigan has 66 one-stop shops that both test and treat
- May 17, 2022: Feds offer Michigan more free COVID tests. Here’s how to get yours.
- Dec. 22, 2021: Ohio gave away millions of at-home COVID tests. Michigan, not so much
- Jan. 18, 2022: Mailbox-bound: Free COVID tests now available for Michigan homes
Statewide, emergency room visits with COVID-19-like respiratory symptoms jumped by 90 percent over the past three weeks. During the week ending Dec. 10, more than 3,000 of the 93,000 outpatient doctor visits across the state — or more than 3 percent — were due to flu-like symptoms, according to state data. That rate was lower than the national average of 6.9 percent, but has been steadily rising for three weeks.
As RSV continues to sicken children, hospitals are running out of baby cribs and breathing supplies. The average RSV positivity rate has ebbed, but it remains at 17.5 percent — more than four times the rate this time last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Having a handy stack of at home COVID tests — there are dozens of versions approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — is critical to keeping the holidays safe.
Both COVID and the flu can cause body aches and a fever, but the treatments are different, said Dr. Delicia Pruitt, a family physician and medical director at the Saginaw County Health Department.
Pruitt has COVID tests on hand at her home and — at this time of the year — a medicine cabinet stocked with ibuprofen and Tylenol to keep down fevers and allergy medicines to take care of cold symptoms.
“It’s ‘respiratory crud time,’” she said. “You should be prepared.”
When cold- or flu-like symptoms appear, she said, the first step is to slip a COVID test out of its packet. Then call a doctor.
Medicine must be started quickly after symptoms appear, generally five days for COVID and just two days for flu. A COVID test offers the first clue for doctors trying to offer the right treatment, Pruitt said.
Searching for ways to be on top of it during the holidays? Here’s how.
Are there free COVID-19 tests?
Yes. The free at-home COVID-19 testing kits from the federal government are available again.
The White House announced Thursday all American households can order four at-home COVID-19 tests and have the kits mailed to them free of charge.
Go to COVIDTests.gov. Those who need help placing an order can call 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The hotline provides services in more than 150 different languages, including English and Spanish.
The shipping starts this week, according to the website.
Additionally, you can also access free COVID-19 testing at more than 15,000 local testing sites, including pharmacies. Find the closest one to you here.
If you are insured, private insurers are required to cover up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests every month. How they are delivered depends on your insurance company.
Some insurers will directly mail the tests to you upon your request, while others designate certain locations (such as pharmacies) for you to obtain free tests.
If you pay for an at-home test at a pharmacy outside your insurance network, you can submit the receipts and get reimbursed for up to $12 per test, according to the state.
Where do I access treatment?
Whether it’s flu or COVID, it’s critical to start treatment quickly.
Both Paxlovid and molnupiravir must be started within five days of symptoms.
If those sites are too far away from you, there is still treatment available. You need a doctor to prescribe the treatment for you and you can access those drugs at hundreds of pharmacies across the state. (Click here to see a full list of therapies and providers.)
Tamiflu can shorten symptoms by a day or so. In a 2020 study of more than 3,200 patients in 15 European countries, Tamiflu was found to reduce the flu by two or three days among patients 65 and older.
Libraries, health departments
Local health departments may have supplies on hand, though how they distribute them varies. (A full department list is here)
At Saginaw County, residents simply walk into the health department and sign them out — no limits or questions asked, said Pruitt, the medical director and family doctor.
More than 150 library branches around Michigan have partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to distribute tests. A full list can be found here.