TRENTON — The New Jersey Department of Health and Vault Medical Services are announcing a new phase of their COVID-19 testing partnership: an at-home saliva test that state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli on Monday called a "critical" measure to contain the virus as the winter approaches.

"This free PCR test provides increased accessibility to COVID testing and is a simple, 10- or 15-minute process that can be done in the privacy of your home," Persichilli said. "This federally funded, in-home alternative helps expand testing options for anyone who needs it."

COVID hospitalizations in New Jersey had ballooned to 1,650 as of Monday's update, with Thanksgiving now in the rearview mirror but Christmas and New Year's, and cold weather forcing people indoors, still to come.

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"With cases rising, and holiday gatherings and travel, you want to protect yourself, especially if you are not feeling well or believe you may have been exposed, even if you don't have any symptoms," Persichilli said.

The Vault test is currently available at "many sites," according to Persichilli, but free test kits can be requested online.

Other at-home tests offered for purchase at pharmacies and other retail locations can cost $40 each or more.

When someone orders this kit, it will be shipped via UPS with next-day delivery, according to the commissioner.

"Once received, individuals will connect via Zoom with a Vault healthcare professional, who will guide them through the test and answer any questions," Persichilli said.

After a person administers their test, they can send it back through UPS next-day shipping in a prepaid package.

Results will be given 24 to 48 hours after a sample arrives at the lab.

Persichilli said those results will then be automatically shared with local public health officials, who will initiate contact tracing if a test comes back positive.

To request a free test kit, go to learn.vaulthealth.com/nj/.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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