YUBA CITY (CBS13) — Home test kits can be a simple way to stop the spread of COVID-19, especially during holiday season gatherings. 

In stores, the kits range from $14 to $40 for two tests — and that’s if you can find one. But with prices high, and inventory low, some counties are stepping up by handing them out for free. 

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It was busy Tuesday at Sutter County Health Department, one of six locations (see the rest below) in the county handing out free COVID-19 home test kits. They’re available to anyone who stops by. 

Most told us they were grabbing one to stay safe for family gatherings and to save money. 

“Even with my Medicare and my pretty darn good health insurance, they were going to cost about $25,” said Helen Heigleheier of Yuba City. 

Sutter County expects to hand out more than 7,000 tests by Friday. They’re on their second shipment and expect another next week. 

“I think it’s amazing and I’m very thankful for it,” said Nicole Prester of Yuba City. 

Yolo County is also handing out free tests but only to residents already receiving county services. Yolo County has handed out  4,000 tests so far and expects another shipment by Monday. 

“I’m hoping once we hit the populations that are already receiving services, we’ll be able to have them at other locations where people can just walk in and get a test kit,” said Dr. Aimee Sisson, Yolo County Health Officer.

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Dr. Sisson is confident the rise in home testing can help stop the spread of COVID-19, but she also says it’s leaving public health departments blind to case counts. 

If home test positives aren’t self-reported, they go untracked. 

“If you don’t know what’s happening with cases, you won’t be able to see disease spreading until people end up in the hospital,“ Dr. Sisson said. 

One solution is to track hospitalizations only, an approach Marin County already is taking. Dr. Sisson says that’s not enough.

“I don’t think we can afford to wait until hospitalizations go up to support increased interventions because at that point, it’s too late,” Dr. Sisson said. 

She thinks we eventually will move to a statistics-based approach, using small samples to estimate overall case numbers. 

“These are ongoing conversations and we’ll figure out how to strike this balance but it won’t be overnight,” Dr Sisson said. 

Tests in Sutter County are being given out through Friday — one kit per person, and each kit comes with two tests. 

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Sutter County locations handing out free COVID-19 home test kits are:

  • E Center Head Start, 2569 Apricot St., Live Oak, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday.
  • Sutter County Public Health, 1445 Veterans Memorial Circle, Yuba City, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Thursday.
  • Sutter County Library, 750 Forbes Ave., Yuba City, from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. today through Saturday (curbside pickup).
  • Richland Housing, 420 Miles Ave., Yuba City, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Thursday.
  • Barber Branch Library, 10321 Live Oak Blvd., Live Oak, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Friday (curbside pickup).
  • Sutter Branch Library, 2147 California St., Sutter, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Friday (curbside pickup).