Pitt County community leaders say that COVID-19 rapid home testing kits have been a long time coming.

Church leaders and other county officials stopped by the Churches Outreach Network Community Center on Tuesday morning to pick up kits for distribution.

Pitt County has been chosen to be a part of “Say Yes! COVID Test,” a campaign to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Only two counties in the country were selected for the pilot program, being offered through the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health in collaboration with Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The community center is responsible for distributing 5,000 of the 40,000 total kits available to Pitt County residents, according to the Rev. Rodney Coles, founder of the Churches Outreach Network.

“We should have been doing this before,” Coles said of home testing, only now becoming available. “I’m praying that the state, president, county and governor find money for this. We need to continue doing this. I always heard, ‘Don’t leave home without your American Express card.’ Now I say, ‘Don’t leave home without your coronavirus kit.’

“I hope they can find money and get these in all communities,” Coles said. “I’m glad Pitt County is one of the first, but we need this worldwide and we need nonprofits to keep working on it to get these kits out.”

Information on how to use the kits will be offered at the distribution sites. Information also can be found on Pitt County’s website.

Testing kits are available at American Legion Post 160, Holly Hill Free Will Baptist Church, the Philippi Missionary Baptist Church’s multipurpose building; the Pitt County Health Department, Philippi Church of Christ, Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church and the Churches Outreach center.

Bishop James Tripp, pastor at Holly Hill, said that his congregation is excited about the chance to test for the virus at home.

“They had a lot of questions about the test kit,” said Tripp. “How far they would have to swab, how effective is it at giving a true reading? But there is excitement about it, because some of these people are hesitant to go to a doctor or get tested.”

Bethel Mayor Gloristine Brown agreed that, for individuals in rural areas without transportation, the test kit is a step in the right direction north of the Tar River.

“We have a lot of citizens that have transportation problems,” Brown said. “Having these kits readily available when they start feeling any kind of symptoms, they don’t have to try to track down where they can go to get a test.

“This is a great idea for rural areas because of transportation,” she said. “We have a lot of elderly in Bethel who we will make sure know how to use these kits and not be afraid of these kits. It can serve as a comfort to them and as a comfort for the whole community.”

Brown also noted that hesitancy has been an issue in Bethel, a primarily Black community, when it comes to vaccination. She said that she has received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and is ready for her second next week. The mayor already has had COVID.

“I have lost family members to COVID,” Brown said. “I want to thank Pastor Coles for this community center to help with distribution for everyone.”

According to Pitt County Health Director John Silvernail, each kit contains 25 tests, meaning that 1 million tests will be available in the community. The plan is for two people in each household to conduct self tests for COVID-19 three times a week until tests are used up.

The intended population for tests are unvaccinated individuals and essential workers.

The county was chosen for the program due to its history with regional public health grants as well as the high rates of COVID-19 that have plagued the area since last March.

Contact Pat Gruner at pgruner@reflector.com and (252)-329-9566.