Members of the Lafayette Fire Department hand out 250 COVID at home tests to residents at the Central Fire Station on Friday, December 31, 2021 in Lafayette, La..

If you’ve been paying attention to COVID-19 news even casually recently, you know it’s been hard to get a rapid test at an approved testing venue and even harder to find at-home tests. If you do find at-home tests and you compare the price to the same test a few weeks ago, you may go into shock.

That’s why it's good news that the Biden administration has approved a program for private health insurers to pay for up to eight home tests per month for those covered by their plans. The goal is to keep costs down while making testing easier.

We shouldn’t be in this situation. COVID-19 has been around long enough that we should have anticipated needing home tests earlier. Neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden anticipated the widespread use of home tests, and too many politicians spent more time arguing against mandates and convincing people that it was OK to make a choice not to get vaccinated. The nation was better served by an emphasis on promoting, overseeing and paying for vaccines, but the testing effort fell short.

Eliminating concern over paying for tests is expected to encourage vaccinated and unvaccinated people to test regularly. A family of four can get 32 home tests each month, and PCR and rapid tests administered or ordered by a health care provider will continue to be covered by insurance with no direct cost to consumers.

The federal government is launching a website as a part of its plan to provide 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests via mail. The Biden administration also is scaling up testing capacity in areas experiencing the greatest surges in cases, and on Wednesday announced plans to supply schools with an additional 5 million free rapid tests and 5 million free PCR tests to support in-person learning.   

All of this is good, but it only works if people take advantage of the opportunities. Our state’s case numbers continue to climb rapidly since the fifth surge started. Only 50% of our population is fully vaccinated, compared to more than 62% of the nation. Among those sick enough with the virus to be hospitalized, a large majority are unvaccinated.

It’s best to be vaccinated and boosted if eligible. Whether vaccinated or not, it’s a good idea to test so appropriate steps can be taken to improve individual health, and to better protect our communities.