Gustine has been able to hand out free COVID-19 at-home tests to residents thanks to a partnership with the United Way Merced County and Duke University.

The City of Gustine has about 400 free COVID-19 at-home tests available for residents who live in the city limits. Test kits can be picked up at the Gustine Police Department.

Gustine got 2,000 tests last week through a United Way Merced County grant, said City Manager Doug Dunford.

The United Way Merced County received the grant from Duke University, through the You & Me Covid-Free program.

You & Me COVID-Free is a federally funded program designed to provide free COVID-19 tests and evaluate whether they are an effective way to reduce community transmission when used prior to gathering with others. The project will also study effective models for community-engaged research so that it can scale to new communities across the nation.

“As people gather with family and friends over the holidays, testing is a critically important tool to help identify COVID-19 infection early and take steps to prevent it from spreading to others,” said Michael “Micky” Cohen-Wolkowiez, M.D., Ph.D., pediatric infectious disease expert, head of pediatric research at the DCRI, and co-investigator of the project.

“You & Me COVID-Free aims to provide not only the COVID-19 tests that community members need to stay safe but also the knowledge that will help our nation expand public health programs to new communities that are bearing the burden of disease,” Cohen-Wolkowiez said.

Merced County was selected for the initial project launch based on high local infection rates, public availability of accurate COVID-19 tracking data, local infrastructure to support the project, and existing community relationships through the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program.

“The health disparities our nation has experienced for hundreds of years are now amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting communities of color,” said Giselle Corbie, M.D., MSc, general internist, health equity researcher, founding director of UNC-CHER, and co-investigator of the project.

“RADx-UP projects like You & Me COVID-Free help to support communities most impacted by health inequalities and augment our national response to the pandemic with innovative, community-based research to help improve outcomes for our most vulnerable populations,” Corbie said.

“We are honored to be selected to participate in a project that was created for and with our community’s health in mind,” said Robert Hypes from United Way of Merced County. “The team behind You & Me COVID-Free understands and values our local community relationships and is committed to providing us with the protective measures that we need to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Through collaborative approaches like this one, we can reach more residents with the messages and tools to stay COVID-free this holiday season and beyond.”

The remaining tests are available at the police department lobby, which is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. Holiday hours may be different. Call ahead at (209) 854-3737.