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Testing partnership brings rapid tests to ‘vulnerable’ Mainers using old data

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In late January, Gov. Janet Mills announced her administration has partnered with The Rockefeller Foundation to launch a pilot program that will distribute free at-home COVID-19 tests to eligible Maine households. Project Access COVID Test (ACT) makes 125,000 packages of five at-home rapid antigen tests available to 25,000 Maine households.

Distribution of the tests, which are produced by iHealth, is being managed by Amazon and Care Evolution, a healthcare technology company, and paid for by a $7.45 million investment from The Rockefeller Foundation.

Eligibility for the program is determined by zip code, using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index. According to a press release from the Mills administration, approximately a quarter of Maine zip codes are eligible to receive the tests. 

Additional consideration was also “given to rural ZIP codes with low vaccination rates and limited access to testing.”

According to the Mills administration, social vulnerability refers to the “potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health, including disease outbreaks.”

The Social Vulnerability Index, a joint project between the U.S. CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, uses data from the U.S. census to determine the social vulnerability of communities around the country. 

The index ranks four Census tracts using 15 social factors and groups them into four themes: socioeconomic status, household composition, housing and transportation, and race, ethnicity, and language.

The index’s most recent data is from 2018.

According to the Jan. 28 press release in which Mills’ office announced the state’s participation in Project ACT, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is “partnering with community organizations throughout the state to conduct outreach to eligible residents.”

A spokesperson for Maine DHHS did not return a request to identify with which organizations the state is partnering. 

The Rockefeller Foundation is currently partnering with five other states for the pilot round of Project ACT: Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, and Ohio.

The Rockefeller Foundation plans to expand the program to other states during its second phase.

According to the January 28 press release, Maine plans to “continue distributing at least the same volume of home tests paid for by The Rockefeller Foundation.”

A spokesperson for Mills’ office did not return a request for comment about how additional tests will be distributed or how distribution will be funded.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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