WE THE PEOPLE
Michigan Libraries Team Up With Health Services for COVID Test Kits
by Sophia Guevara
Upon visiting a local library branch in my community, I learned about an interesting partnership between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and public libraries to provide free at-home COVID-19 test kits to Michigan residents. To find out more, I emailed Lynn Sutfin, who is a public information officer with MDHHS.
MDHHS decided to team up with libraries across the state to distribute tests “to communities that have limited access to testing and with high Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), particularly those communities with high risk of communicable diseases such as COVID and other risk factors,” according to Sutfin. The CDC explains that the SVI “uses U.S. Census data to determine the relative social vulnerability of every census tract. The SVI ranks each tract on 14 social factors and groups them into four related themes”: Socioeconomic Status, Household Composition & Disability, Minority Status & Language, and Housing Type & Transportation.
Sutfin told me that “the MDHHS Testing Collection and Coordination Team worked with the Michigan Library Association [MLA] to identify libraries where communities would benefit from having free at-home tests available and began the partnership.” Starting out with 30 partners, the project grew to include 180, and this progress has exceeded the original expectations of the pilot program. Sutfin is unaware of any previous partnerships between MDHHS and libraries for health projects, but says that the department has “a long history of partnering with community-based groups and organizations to help promote public health initiatives.” She notes that libraries were chosen for this project “based on proximity and as they are considered a symbol for knowledge within a community.”
So, with MDHHS coordinating with the MLA and local health departments, “an interest survey and project overview were provided, which allowed libraries to identify interest in partnering,” says Sutfin. The MLA was “a key partner in the [rollout] of the library project. Their assistance with communications with all libraries and feedback from partners was utilized in identification of partner sites and were critical in making this project a success. MDHHS continues to coordinate with the [MLA] to identify future opportunities and improve the process.”
Sutfin says there aren’t any immediate plans to involve other libraries, such as academic libraries, noting that MDHHS “matched locations with high SVI criteria and lack of testing access in the area. Academic libraries currently are not included but it does not exclude opportunity for the future.” Right now, there is a monthly allocation of approximately 300 tests per location. Some locations are busier than others. For example, the Detroit libraries are capable of distributing all 300 tests in a weekend. Sutfin says libraries can “request additional supplies if needed.”
I learned at my own library that there is a limit of five tests available per household. I wondered how libraries keep track of this, and Sutfin said that “community libraries have their own tracking system and provide a monthly report to MDHHS answering questions related to distribution of tests.”
What if someone tests positive? MDHHS provides a document on its website titled COVID-19 Self-Testing Fast Facts, along with another document that is an overview of COVID treatments (see the sidebar below for the links). From the first document, readers can learn about the difference between a negative and positive test and find out how long to quarantine at home. The second document shares information about treatments, including oral antivirals and IV drips, and who might be considered high risk for hospitalization.
I decided to write about this project because I thought it was a good example for library professionals to learn from, and the impact described by Sutfin seems to point out that the alliance was a good decision. I was happy to learn that a state governmental organization saw the potential for a partnership with the state’s libraries and decided to work with the state’s library association in order to find library partners to participate.