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20,000 at-home Covid tests kits will be given free to Onondaga County residents logo 12/21/2021 Glenn Coin,
At-home Covid tests are selling out ahead of the Christmas holiday, including at the Kinney Drug store in Fairmount. © Teri Weaver | tweaver/ At-home Covid tests are selling out ahead of the Christmas holiday, including at the Kinney Drug store in Fairmount.

Syracuse, N.Y. — Over the next week, Onondaga County plans to start distributing 20,000 at-home Covid-19 test kits to county residents — for free.

As the omicron strain of the coronavirus threatens to increase caseloads and overwhelm testing centers, County Executive Ryan McMahon said the at-home kits will be distributed by local municipalities. Details are still being worked out. He said the city of Syracuse and the county’s towns and villages will get back to the county with hours and locations, which could be churches, town halls and other gathering places.

“Once we have a full list of who’s going to participate and where, we will put that out so the public can know where they can go and pick up a rapid test,” he said. “We expect that they will go quickly.”

McMahon said the county will be getting more kits from the state, but didn’t know when or how many. Each kit contains two tests.

The at-home tests are increasingly hard to find at local pharmacies as cases tick up and people want to get tested before seeing family for the winter holidays. They give results within 15 minutes. While they are not as accurate as the PCR tests done in labs, experts say they work well at detecting positive cases, especially in people who already have symptoms of Covid-19.

McMahon said the county will also distribute KN-95 masks in the same way as the tests, but said the plan isn’t in place yet.

“They are essentially what most experts would call the second-best mask that you could have besides the N-95,” he said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday the state is also sending 6 million masks to county emergency managers.

McMahon said the omicron variant is causing about 10% of cases in the county, but that will change rapidly. Nationwide, omicron accounted for 10% of cases two weeks ago and nearly 75% this week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Onondaga County confirmed 351 new cases today, higher than the daily average of 314 so far this month. McMahon warned that cases are likely to spike soon because of omicron, estimated to be twice as contagious as the already highly contagious delta variant.

“We need to prepare ourselves for the reality that we’re going to see high cases,” McMahon said. “The key to all of this is keeping the hospitals functioning well to treat all the sick.”

Hospital capacity is slightly better than it was a couple weeks ago, McMahon said. Covid-19 hospitalizations have stayed largely flat all month, with 129 patients today. That’s slightly lower than this month’s daily average of 134, and 60% lower than the 327 people hospitalized with the illness a year ago.

Four people died today of Covid-19, McMahon said: a woman who was over 100; and three men, one each in his 70s, 80s and 90s. That brings December’s total to 57, which is also less than half of the total in the first 21 days of December 2020.

Since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, 922 county residents have died of Covid-19.

There are 26 Covid-19 patients in intensive care today, McMahon said. Of those 22 had not been vaccinated.

McMahon said two local schools — Jordan-Elbridge and Holy Cross — have received approval from the state to begin a “test-to-stay” program for kids exposed to the virus. Instead of staying out of school, students can come to class and be tested each day; as long as they’re negative, they can stay, McMahon said.

He said the county’s remaining school districts will likely to get approval for test-to-stay programs after the Christmas holiday break.


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