Health Services provides free COVID tests for third year

URI Health Services has received over 56,000 COVID tests from RIDOH to distribute to students for free. PHOTO CREDIT: Hannah Charron

The University of Rhode Island has been giving out free COVID-19 test kits since the fall of 2022, according to Jennifer Hodshon, senior associate director of Health Services and acting director of Health Services.

Hodshon says the University receiving these tests is in coordination with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and federally funded by the state. The Department of Health also distributes over the counter BinaxNOW OTCs, or at-home tests, all over the state.

“They just started distributing tests to eligible entities throughout the state,” Hodshon said. “These entities include community based organizations, nonprofit health clinics, school child care and institutes of higher education. So, we are essentially getting these tests for free from the State Department of Health.”

She also said the total number of tests received at URI have been about 56,000. Every group of three or more test kits, comes incrementally so that they are all given away before they expire. However, Hodshon said they also don’t want to take away from other entities, such as the nonprofits who may need them more.

“But they had hundreds and thousands of tests,” Hodshon said. “So the department keeps encouraging us to come get them.” 

Hodshon stated that Health Services has been in a couple different areas at URI distributing these tests. These areas include the Memorial Union and both Mainfaire and Butterfield dining halls. The program is that the State Department has distributed over 1.5 million tests across Rhode Island.

Chris Nasin, the medical director at URI Health Services said they give out these tests for free to encourage students to test. People who aren’t students can get eight COVID-19 tests per month for free with their insurance through some of the national COVID-19 Relief Acts. However, this rule may be subject to change May 11, when the National Public Health Declaration of Emergency for the Coronavirus pandemic is set to expire.

“This was announced by the Biden administration in January,” Nasin said. “So we’re not sure how it’s going to change but we think it might affect how boosters and testing are reimbursed by insurance companies. So, we have to wait and see.”

Additionally, Nasin said there are many acts who help the University acquire tests. For example, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, was one of the suppliers of tests to URI Health Services. 

The CARES Act was created by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF I). In this act, URI was allocated $5.6 million in emergency aid to support student healthcare in 2020, according to the URI website . 

By the fall of 2022, Health Services received the test kits. Essentially, the federal government divided out these resources to states who used them as they saw fit, according to Nasin.

Nasin said if students see one of their tests expired, they may be past the expiration date but rest assured, they’ve made sure the shelf life is still good because of the extensions on the expiration date the FDA has granted.

“So, if you’re sick, stay away from class and get tested,” Nasin said. “Make sure you’re immunized, cover coughs and sneezes. Wash your hands and have a healthy rest of your semester.”