From Good Housekeeping
City officials in Salem, Massachusetts have launched a new initiative called “Knowvember” to provide more COVID-19 tests to locals in the area.
Mayor Kim Driscoll is asking residents to consider getting two tests in both November and December in order to have better data on local COVID-19 spread.
New York recently announced a two-test requirement for nearly all visitors to the state and returning residents who have recently traveled.
Many states are experiencing an upswing in new COVID-19 cases this month — some, to the point that lockdowns may be necessary once again, per data sourced by the Harvard Global Health Institute. Meanwhile, some Americans are gearing up to travel for the upcoming holiday season. Mostly, it seems like people plan to safely travel by car and share dinner locally with family or friends, according to data collected by American Express that suggests upwards of 75% of Americans plan to stay close to home this season. Others may turn to buses, trains and planes to reunite with far-flung family members. But as the holiday season brings more reasons to travel, state officials are thinking of new ways to combat the further spread of COVID-19 due to occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
One way to do that is to encourage more testing, and a new initiative spearheaded by a local official in Massachusetts aims to do just that. Kim Driscoll, the mayor of Salem, Massachusetts, spent most of October working to reduce COVID-19 risks among the area’s residents as they celebrated Halloween during the pandemic, a popular holiday in the historic town. Now, she’s taking aim at reducing the possibility that asymptomatic individuals will inadvertently spread COVID-19 with a campaign that Salem officials are calling “Knowvember.”
The initiative, first launched on November 2, is designed to get a better grasp on local spread by asking residents to sign up for free COVID-19 testing over the next two months. According to a report from Salem’s local chapter of Patch.com, residents in the New England city will be able to receive up to two free COVID-19 tests administered by city officials — and can get tested twice more in December, as well. “Knowvember” is part of the city’s “Stop the Spread” campaign, Patch reports, and tests will be held at various hours Monday to Saturday, through the end of the year.
Testing was largely unavailable to many citizens during the first few weeks of the pandemic, as both states and private medical companies scrambled to produce accurate COVID-19 tests in all 50 states. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that as many as 40% of individuals infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and 75% of these individuals may pass on the disease to others, testing is crucial to stemming the disease’s spread. Additionally, getting a negative result from a COVID-19 test may be the only way that most Americans can travel for the holidays if they choose to do so.
Per a travel guide produced by CNN, there are 20 states with some form of travel restriction currently in place for visitors, either by air or by ground. Nearly all of them stipulate immediate quarantine upon arrival, but many of them wave quarantine requirements if you schedule a test and show a negative result. Some states take it even further: New York, for example, recently announced new restrictions for visitors who wish to avoid a 14-day self-quarantine period. Visitors will need to take a COVID-19 test three days prior to their journey to New York, and after isolating for three days upon arrival, take another test for good measure. If both are negative, the visitor can skip quarantine, but only if the timeline is followed exactly and documented via official test results.
“Knowvember” may be unique in that it asks residents to get tested (twice!) even if they aren’t showing any COVID-19 symptoms. But Salem isn’t alone in providing free testing to locals. There are testing centers in every state under direction from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, first put into place by the Families First Coronavirus Act, which passed in March. Some health centers come with more defined prerequisites to qualify for free tests (you can find your nearest testing center here), while others provide services to all, even those without symptoms, on a sliding-scale fee system. The Department of Health and Human Services has also organized free testing at pharmacies like CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens to reach more Americans in their own neighborhoods. Those with insurance shouldn’t face out-of-pocket costs at these sites, and uninsured individuals won’t pay for a test, as fees are passed onto federal providers instead. Finding free testing over the holiday season is easier now than when the pandemic first began in March, and that’s largely because states want to regulate spread among their borders.
While Salem’s “Knowvember” initiative is aimed at primarily getting a better grasp of the local spread data, the program can also be a helpful tool for those wishing to travel safely for the holidays. Shruti Gohil, M.D., an epidemiologist and professor within the University of California Irvine’s Health System, stresses that elderly individuals may be at most risk during the holidays, and indoor activities like Thanksgiving dinner pose a higher likelihood of COVID-19 transmission. This is especially true if multiple parties are traveling to the same household from different areas.
It’s unclear if “Knowvember” will also be sponsored by other cities in Massachusetts, in other states across New England, or even in states across the nation. But the suggestion that Americans should sign up for multiple tests during the holiday season may actually help stem the rapid spread of COVID-19 occurring at the national level by catching under-the-radar cases. If you plan on traveling or visiting family this month or next, taking “Knowvember” to heart sounds like a good plan to us.
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