Should rapid antigen tests be free for everyone?

BOSTON — COVID-19 rapid antigen tests are already available to local schools and boards of health, but doctors say if we want to get out of this pandemic, they need to be available for everyone for free.

Take the case of Cameron Thompson, who is visiting from Atlanta and is going to visit a friend whose 18-month-old has some symptoms. Thompson is in town for two more days and wouldn’t have had time to wait for a free PCR test so instead, he opened up his wallet.

“They were $40 a test and I just bought four so I spent $160 just to know if we can spend time with friends,” Thompson said.

Thankfully he has the money to do this, but many people don’t.

“If we had rapid testing last year, we wouldn’t be where we are right now,” said Associate Chair of Pathology at Newton Wellesley Hospital Dr. Michael Misialek.

Misialek was one of 250 signatures on State Representative Dr. Tami Gouveia’s letter to the governor to make the tests free to rapidly reopen society. Instead, they are patiently waiting.

>>>MORE: Mask mandate reaching into early education

“I think it’s the logistics and just the undertaking of how we could roll out a rapid antigen testing program,” Gouveia said. “In other countries, they are mailing two tests per week home to residents so they can self-test and then make decisions about whether or not they go out into public and other localities. They’re doing it through the schools like in the State of California.”

Dr. Gouveia said there is now interest in using this letter as a model nationwide.

“Vaccines have been free after a certain age for just about everybody and there are still naysayers,” Thompson said. “They’re always naysayers, people holding out to wear a mask, but I definitely think making it available for everybody is better than not.”

If you’re wondering about costs, Dr. Gouveia said Massachusetts has only spent about half of the $9 billion of federal funds. She said bulk pricing and local manufacturers could allow the state to order tests for about $5. She said spending the money now saves us money in the long run since it could stop unnecessary quarantines.

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