Maine’s COVID-19 testing volume and positivity rate is at or close to the highest it has ever been. Yet, finding an appointment for a PCR test, largely considered the gold-standard for accuracy, at a local pharmacy can be a near-impossible task.

Two days before Lewiston resident Nadine Holden was scheduled to get her booster shot, she started to have COVID symptoms and needed to get tested, as required by her job as a dental assistant.

“Booking online for a rapid test proved impossible,” Holden said. “So, I went to Topsham Urgent Care and waited nearly two hours to be seen.”

Nicole Helene of Auburn said it’s been difficult finding an appointment or an at-home rapid test.

She said she “panicked” when she thought she would need to show proof of a negative test to attend a Christmastime event with her children, when finding an appointment “was impossible.”

“As someone who works face to face with people and (has) direct-contact scares frequently, it would be great to have better access to tests,” she said.


At-home testing options are helpful — when she can find them — but purchasing those gets expensive. An at-home rapid test can run anywhere from $10 to $25 and the federal plan that would allow people to submit for reimbursement through their insurance has not been enacted yet.

Health officials have touted at-home rapid tests as key to the fight against COVID. They’re easy to use and give results within minutes. But supply has been iffy, at best.

President Joe Biden announced last month a federal program to provide one billion free at-home rapid tests. Half of those tests will go to testing locations such as community health centers. The other half will be available to individuals by request via a federal website.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing Tuesday that the administration expects to finalize its vendor shortly with first shipments going out later this month.

“I can’t afford to keep paying out of pocket for at-home tests and can’t afford to be out of work if I don’t test,” Helene said.

Andrew Kennedy, a professor at Bates College in Lewiston, said college faculty and staff have access to free, frequent and fast testing — both PCR and rapid antigen — since in-person classes resumed in August of 2020.


“In one sense, it’s weird to have such easy access to such an efficient testing system at no charge, when I know many others that struggled to find appointments, pay out of pocket, and wait days, sometimes many days, for results,” Kennedy said.

The chemistry professor said it feels “like a privileged bubble” because his employer “has the means and desire” to provide testing.

“In short, it seems unfair,” he said.

In another sense, Kennedy said the service is of great value to the hundreds of people, many of whom live locally, that are employed by Bates and who have primarily worked in-person throughout the pandemic.

Still, he said, “the pandemic didn’t start yesterday. It shouldn’t be like this.”



“Testing is really hard to find right now, in Maine and across the United States,” Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director, said at a media briefing Wednesday.

“I acknowledge that,” he said.

Shah announced that drive-through testing will begin at the Augusta Armory on Monday but no other sites elsewhere in Maine, such as Franklin County where there is one pharmacy testing site, have been announced.

“We’re working to bring it to all places in Maine, Western Maine included,” he said. “(Testing) has definitely been a desert in some places in the state.”

“I’m not going to promise though that in ‘x’ number of days there will be a large-scale testing site in Franklin County,” Shah said.

Staffing remains the primary challenge for standing up additional sites, in Maine and across the country, Shah said.


He said Maine has requested help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the federal CDC to set up additional testing sites as part of Biden’s plan but have not received a response yet.

“The ball is in their court right now,” he said.

Still, even as the state works to activate more members of the Maine National Guard or from federal partners, the question remains of where to send those assets, Shah said.

“But as you’ve also heard, as mentioned, there, too, are competing priorities,” he said. “If we can activate five more members of the Guard, should they go to a hospital to provide decompression so the hospital can take more patients? Should they go to a vaccination site, so more people can get vaccinated? Should they deliver PPE? Or should they stand up a testing site?

“Those are the very, very hard choices that we have to make to see what’s best,” Shah said.

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