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Test Nebraska sites to close Sunday; Current demand is too low to justify costs

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 7:06 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - More than 700,000 tests later, the state’s free COVID-19 testing program is ending, the last day to get tested is in just a few days.

The state said the demand for testing just isn’t there, which is clear given the empty parking lot at Gateway Mall’s testing site and the empty shelves at the CHI Health St. Elizabeth testing lab.

“People don’t want to get tested,” Angela Ling, incident commander with DHHS said. “We can encourage it but that’s what we’re seeing.”

The Test Nebraska program launched in early 2020 with a handful of testing sites operated by the National Guard. Now, 784,000 swabs and up to 70 sites later, they’re ending the program.

“We have to be fiscally responsible,” Ling said. “Right now we’re averaging 180 to 190 tests a day with Test Nebraska and the costs to operate don’t meet that demand.”

So far the state has spent $45 million on the program, including a $27 million contract with NOMI Health Inc., to start it. DHHS said they don’t yet know the final costs of the program.

But they do know demand has dropped.

Ling said during the peak of the pandemic in November they were doing 25,000 tests a day across the state. She said now there are some days where they don’t break 200 tests.

“That’s not because people can’t get tested,” Derek Vance, President of CHI Health St. Elizabeth said. “It’s because there’s not demand for it. They can get tested in so many other places.”

So even with concerns about the Delta variant and rising cases, both Vance and Ling said this is the right decision.

“The question isn’t will we need testing, because we will for a long time,” Vance said. “But the question is do we need testing in the kind of numbers we saw during the pandemic and right now we don’t.”

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department also said testing will continue to be important in monitoring the pandemic and they’d encourage anyone experiencing symptoms to get tested. There are several other testing locations through CHI Health St. Elizabeth, Bryan Health and several other pharmacies including CVS, HyVee and Walgreens as well as other health care providers and urgent care clinics. They said if someone isn’t insured and can’t afford testing through other routes because of that, they can call the health department’s COVID-19 hotline at 402-441-8006.

The last day to get tested through Test Nebraska is Sunday. The lab will close July 31.

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