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State unveils plan to distribute 400,000 COVID-19 tests

Maine DHHS will partner with Walgreens to distribute 300,000 tests, while the remaining tests will be distributed based on priority and risk.

AUGUSTA, Maine — On Thursday, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) unveiled its plan to distribute the 400,000 BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen tests that are being delivered to Maine from the federal government. 

In August, the federal government purchased 150 million units of Abbott Labs' BinaxNOW diagnostic COVID-19 tests after they were granted an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) says the initial distribution of the tests to states is "well underway," ensuring governors "will not have to compete for the initial BinaxNOW shipments or waste precious time to set up individual purchasing contracts with the manufacturer." 

Maine is set to receive a total of 400,000 of the "state-of-the-art" tests, which can diagnose the coronavirus in as little as fifteen minutes. Maine DHHS has already begun to receive shipments and expects to continue being sent the tests through December. 

RELATED: Maine to get 400,000 'state-of-the-art' Abbott coronavirus tests

“Maine has already built a robust and successful testing strategy that helps us lead the nation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said. “The addition of the BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests will provide a new layer of protection for Maine people as we remain vigilant against this virus.”

Maine DHHS is partnering with Walgreens to distribute the bulk of the tests, approximately 300,000, to 65 pharmacy locations from Kittery to Madawaska. This testing will be available to the public as a drive-through service in November.

“Walgreens is honored to be recognized by the state of Maine to further increase access to COVID-19 testing and in the coming weeks we look forward to serving as a BinaxNOW COVID-19 testing location in select Maine pharmacies,” Rick Gates, senior vice president of Walgreens pharmacy said in a release. “Pharmacists’ role as part of the health care system and patients’ care teams has never been more critical or clear. Walgreens has a long history of stepping up to support our customers and communities in times of need, and we’re pleased to be working in collaboration with Maine health officials on this effort.”

Following a request for quotes process, DHHS issued a preliminary award to Walgreens and is now finalizing an agreement.

Maine DHHS says the remaining 100,000 tests will be distributed through a process that prioritizes access for Maine people who are symptomatic or at elevated risk of exposure to and illness from COVID-19, such as critical infrastructure staff including health care workers, law enforcement and public safety personnel, first responders, and school staff. 

Qualified organizations that follow Maine DHHS guidance for use of the BinaxNOW tests may now apply for an allocation. Since demand may exceed the available supply, DHHS will prioritize facilities that will use them for high-risk populations, in high-risk settings, or where access to COVID-19 testing is otherwise limited. 

In line with this strategy, Maine DHHS has allocated a portion of BinaxNOW tests to the Maine Department of Corrections, which has deployed them at its facilities as part of its COVID-19 response.

RELATED: 12 Maine Correctional Center inmates test positive for COVID-19

The tests will be distributed to Maine organizations that are not already directly receiving BinaxNOW tests from the federal government. In addition to the 400,000 tests allocated to Maine DHHS, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also distributed tests directly to congregate care settings such as nursing and assisted living facilities in the state.

The Maine DHHS says on its own, the Mills administration has built a "robust" testing strategy, which is currently operating at 568 percent of its testing target—the best in the country, according to the New York Times.

Gov. Janet Mills struck a deal IDEXX Laboratories Inc. back in May that allowed Maine to become one of the first states in the country to eliminate its testing prioritization and issue a standing order allowing anyone in Maine to be tested.

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