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Rite Aid offering free COVID-19 tests, expands program to include teens

Rite Aid is offering free COVID-19 testing to both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, and the company is expanding the program to include teenagers.

The Pennsylvania-based drug store chain made the announcement Nov. 24. An earlier press release had said it would have to begin charging $115 for testing on Dec. 1 due to the “end of federal funding for diagnostic testing by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).”

But in the updated press release, Rite Aid said its no-charge testing would continue to be available through its partnership with the HHS at the company’s existing testing sites. Rite Aid's COVID-19 testing program uses self-swab nasal tests overseen by pharmacists.

Previously, the company’s testing program was only available to people 18 years of age or older. The expanded program allows parents or legal guardians of individuals 13-18 to create Baseline COVID-19 accounts and provide consent for individuals under 18 to be tested. 

Parents or legal guardians must also show their government-issued identification and accompany their children to the appointment and supervise them during the test, the company said. 

A file image taken April 21, 2020 shows a Rite Aid employee preparing to give a testing swab to a drive-thru customer in Macomb, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Rite Aid operates 301 testing sites across 15 states. Patients are required to pre-register online at www.riteaid.com in order to schedule a time slot for COVID-19 testing. A complete list of testing locations can be found online.

"We're proud to continue serving as an essential part of the pandemic response in the neighborhoods we serve," Heyward Donigan, Rite Aid's president and chief executive officer, said in the updated announcement. "Continuing to make testing available -- and now, to a broader age range -- is an important next step in continuing to fight COVID-19."

Other drug store chains, including CVS Health and Walgreens, offer COVID-19 testing programs. Major grocery chains like Kroger and Costco also sell at-home COVID-19 testing kits.

As the U.S. faces a renewed surge of coronavirus cases heading into the holiday season, experts say the country’s testing system has been unable to keep pace. Lines for free COVID-19 testing have stretched for blocks at sites across New York City and Los Angeles.

The U.S. has increased its capacity — now testing over 1.5 million people per day on average, more than double the rate in July when many Americans last faced long lines. But experts like Johns Hopkins University researcher Gigi Gronvall said the country is still falling far short of what’s needed to control the novel coronavirus.

Gronvall told the Associated Press that the current testing rate “is on its way, but it’s nowhere close to what’s needed to shift the course of this epidemic.” Many experts have called for anywhere between 4 million and 15 million daily tests to suppress the virus.

RELATED: Inequality 'baked into' COVID-19 testing access as cases surge

To date, the country has reported more than 11.5 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and 250,000 deaths, Johns Hopkins data shows.

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.