As the omicron surge fades and demand for testing decreases, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said Monday the state aims to keep a stockpile of 3.5 million rapid antigen tests — enough for half the population — on hand at all times to meet demand and to be prepared for any future upticks in infection rates.
Sudders shared the administration's test supply strategy during a Joint Ways and Means Committee budget hearing in response to a question from Rep. Russell Holmes, of Mattapan, about whether the state was prepared for the possibility of another surge in test demand in fall, and whether the inventory was kept up to date.
Holmes said he was particularly concerned about the message it would send if the state shipped expired tests into the community because the stockpile wasn't being used fast enough.
"That ruins our reputation," Holmes said.
Sudders noted the state's purchase of 26 million at-home rapid tests for COVID-19 in January, which have been shipped to schools, correctional facilities, senior housing and community groups for dissemination to the public. Sudders said the tests have six- to eight-month expiration dates.
"We think these are good tests for people to have to be able to immediately use in 15 minutes, but we are continually refreshing them," Sudders said. The state also maintains a six-month supply of personal protective equipment like masks in its warehouses, she said.
The Baker administration announced on Friday that beginning April 1 it would downsize its publicly subsidized Stop the Spread PCR testing program to 11 sites across the state after documenting an 80 percent decline in patient volume since January. At its peak, the Stop the Spread program operated 41 testing sites.
In communities losing one of the PCR testing clinics, the administration said it was shipping 40,040 rapid antigen tests to those 19 cities and towns as a one-month bridge, with each community receiving a minimum of 1,080 rapid tests. The 6,120 tests being sent to Amherst was the largest allotment for any one community.