Public libraries nationwide are handing out test kits and masks in a growing effort by counties and cities to better protect their residents from the virus.
As public libraries across the nation begin handing out COVID-19 testing kits and N95 masks, librarians have become the latest frontline workers.
Melanie Huggins, president of the Public Library Association, said libraries and librarians are essential to combating the virus seeing as they are vital to their communities and have accessible hours of operation.
"Libraries are one of the most-trusted entities and organizations in communities since we're accessible, friendly, welcoming, and all the things that you would want people to be during this crisis," Huggins told Route Fifty.
"I think that it is a positive thing, and people are noticing how critical libraries are to responding to crises."
Public libraries across the country are rallying. Some began handing out COVID-19 test kits months ago, beginning with polymerase chain reaction tests that residents could use at home, then deposit in a drop box at the library and later get the results.
According to Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School, a PCR test can detect the presence of the virus and can determine whether a person has an active coronavirus infection.
Prior to Christmas, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced that select libraries would offer at-home test kits that residents could use to get results in 15 minutes. To qualify for the free test kits, people must show proof of residency. Qualified residents can pick up a maximum of two kits (four rapid antigen self tests) per day.
Nearby Montgomery County, Maryland is also providing rapid at-home testing kits at public libraries.
According to a county press release, residents could pick up free, rapid at-home test kits at any one of 19 Montgomery County Public Libraries beginning Jan. 10.
Like Washington, D.C. residents will receive a maximum of two test kits per person and will be given on a first-come-first-served basis.
“Securing these tests, which are currently in great demand, will help our County mitigate community transmission from the Omicron variant surge,” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said in the press release.
“We appreciate the District of Columbia assisting us and thank our procurement team for their diligence to track down and acquire these tests. We are going to make sure these tests will be given out equitably and fairly throughout the community.”
Although passing out at-home tests in libraries has caused some librarians to be overwhelmed with the added workload, Huggins said libraries are willing-and-able partners to combat crises in communities, and they are doing the best they can under the circumstances.
"We know that this is temporary. This will probably not become a permanent part of our job, but it's what's needed of us right now," Huggins added.
"I know it can be tiresome and certainly be fatiguing, but we know that we have trust and relationships with our communities that really help and test distribution."
This story is part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems. It was originally published by Route Fifty.