Montana has acquired 650,000 COVID-19 rapid antigen tests that it will distribute at no cost through local health departments, Gov. Greg Gianforte said Thursday.
The state ordered the self-administered CareStart tests from Medea Medical Products using $5.5 million in federal grant funding authorized as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Officials said they anticipate the tests will arrive by January 24, at which time the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services will allocate the tests to public health departments.
Montana reported 1,760 new cases of COVID on Thursday.
“As the state of Montana, like the rest of the nation, faces a new surge with the omicron variant, testing is a critical tool to help keep people safe with early detection,” Gianforte said in a statement.
He placed blame with the Biden Administration for not moving sooner to widely distribute rapid tests to Americans.
“The administration in Washington has really failed to deliver on its longstanding promise for free rapid tests, so we acted,” Gianforte said in an address to the Montana Chamber of Commerce and other business groups in Helena Thursday.
President Joe Biden made ramping up access to testing a priority coming into office, but a program to address testing shortages as the highly contagious omicron variant spread across the country never fully got off the ground. Biden said Thursday that he was directing staff to acquire an additional 500 million tests for free distribution.
Exactly how many tests will go to which Montana counties isn’t yet clear.
Jon Ebelt, a spokesperson for DPHHS, said the governor directed the department to acquire “as many tests as possible while taking into consideration the projected needs for the funding source.”
Montana has distributed 725,000 rapid tests to hospitals, K-12 schools and other congregate settings since October, and 20,000 at-home tests to county health departments for local distribution, Ebelt said. However, federal regulations and the need to prioritize distribution of a limited supply of tests has meant that not all institutions and individuals have equal access to rapid testing.
The new testing, Ebelt said, is “complementing and amplifying current efforts in response to nationwide test supply bottlenecks and the Omicron variant.”
Montana also continues to run PCR testing through the state laboratory and its partner labs, he said.
In addition to announcing the new tests, Gianforte’s address to the chamber also touched on political accomplishments of the past year, such as a series of income tax cuts and credits that the governor said he hopes to see more of in the 2023 legislative session.
“We plan to make more tax cuts in future legislatures to make Montana more competitive,” he said.
“Our work is not done. We’re just getting started.”