The at-home, COVID-19 test kit Wisconsin residents now can order. (Photo provided by Vault Health)
The at-home, COVID-19 test kit Wisconsin residents now can order. (Photo provided by Vault Health)

Good news dampened by a record-high number of reported deaths.

Wisconsinites can now order a free, at-home COVID-19 saliva test, the Department of Health Services and Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday.

The test kits are available to order for anyone in Wisconsin, whether they are symptomatic or not. Results won’t be instantaneous—the sample must be sent to a Minnesota lab through UPS—but the at-home availability should make it easier and more convenient for Wisconsinites to get tested.

“We believe that anyone in Wisconsin who needs to be tested for COVID-19 should have access to a test, and I’m proud of our statewide testing efforts throughout this pandemic,” Evers said in a press release. “We also know that getting to a healthcare provider or a community testing site isn’t easy for everyone, and that’s why we are excited to offer this new option to make testing even more accessible for folks across our state.”

National Guard-run community testing sites, while free to all, often have lines that take upwards of an hour to get through. Healthcare providers likewise typically require appointments.

The test kits include instructions and a video call with a testing supervisor, according to the release.

Vault Health, a New York-based men’s health startup that launched its at-home COVID tests in April, is providing the tests. The tests would normally cost $119, but that will not need to be paid by people in Wisconsin; Vault will bill health insurance providers, or the state will foot the bill for people without insurance, DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said in a Tuesday call with reporters.

The company has partnered with Minnesota and Wyoming to offer similar programs.

New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been greatly decreasing since Thanksgiving, with DHS reporting 2,403 additional confirmed cases on Tuesday, but tests have also been dropping. Palm stressed that testing is readily available and that people should continue to get tested if they are symptomatic or have been incontact with someone who has COVID-19.

“If you need a test, you can get a test,” Palm said.

Tuesday also brought a record-high number of COVID-19 deaths in Wisconsin, with 120 more reported to bring the state’s total death toll to 4,545. That does not mean those deaths occurred on Tuesday, simply that they are reported; Monday brought just eight new reported deaths.

Nevertheless, deaths have been relatively high since November, reflective of the huge spike in cases throughout last month that saw the state peak at nearly 8,000 cases in a single day. As of Tuesday, the seven-day daily average of reported deaths is 60.

The percentage of positive tests remains high, with the seven-day average sitting at 26.2%. A safe level is considered 5% or lower.

“While we can see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, we are not in the clear yet,” Evers said in the call with reporters.