An Early-Covid Artifact

To give it its due, our health insurance company (United Healthcare) makes valiant efforts to encourage wellness. They’re constantly calling to make sure we’re doing okay, offering home visits and phone consultations that we decline because we are quite healthy. And from time to time we are surprised by care packages from UHC. During cold and flu season they’ve sent thermometers and lip balm and packets of Emergen-C. Fairly early during the pandemic, they sent a kit that contained a fairly well-fitting cloth mask and a plastic widget for opening doors, pressing buttons, etc.

But the most amusing gift, certainly well-intentioned but now rather risible, was an at-home Covid test. We’re practically drowning in Covid tests. Although we have been fortunate to have had almost no occasion to use them, I keep graciously accepting those offered by the federal government, so the linen closet where we also stockpile medications, bandages, and the like is overflowing. The other day I decided to get them all out and check expiration dates, expecting to be able to discard those that had expired. After checking the FDA site where you can check extended expiration dates, I found that they’re actually all still good, so I returned six iHealth and two BinaxNOW boxes (16 tests in all) to the closet.

At the same time, I got out the much bulkier box we’d received from UHC’s Well At Home. This EverlyWell test retails for $109, and it is a PCR test, so I shouldn’t be making fun of it, but the comparison to the convenient home antigen tests is striking. To begin with, you have to get permission to use it:

The instructions are very thorough, beginning with the contents:

Here are those actual contents.

These are the collection instructions, beginning with watching a video and planning your shipment in advance:

In case you have neglected to follow these instructions, there’s an Important Reminder:

Next come the detailed return instructions:

The instruction to disinfect the mailer (even though you’ve washed your hands) reflects the then-current assumption that the Covid virus might remain on surfaces.

Finally, there is information on what happens after you submit the sample:

The outside packaging (in very, very tiny print) warns: “Must be 18+ to complete a test. We work with a physician network to ensure that your test is reviewed and approved by an independent board-certified physician in your state and that your results are reviewed by a physician before you review them. Check to check which states this test is valid in.” This is what you can find at that link:

Everlywell tests are currently available to residents in 49 U.S. states. With the exception of the COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC and COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, we currently do not offer tests to residents of New York state. This is due to the state’s regulations around testing. Samples must be collected and returned from eligible states. We hope to eventually offer all of our tests in all 50 states.

So we could have used this even if we were in New York. Whew! If we’d needed to use this test, I’m sure we would have been grateful to have it, even if there was only one test between the two of us. [I recall now that I was offered the opportunity to get this package (which also includes a dose of Tamiflu); by the time my husband applied, it was too late.] Still, by comparison to the simplicity of the home antigen tests, this seems very complicated!

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