‘There is a lot of anxiety’: US grapples with Covid testing amid wave | US News


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As a history professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Kevin Bruyneel had been tested for Covid-19 more than 100 times and typically waited less than 15 minutes for free tests.

So Bruyneel was upset when he went for a PCR test at a clinic on Sunday in Brooklyn, New York, and waited over an hour after his appointment and was billed at least $ 100 – although he could owe more depending on what their insurance covers. .

“There were a lot of people in line, incredibly desperate to get tested because they were flying” for the holidays, said Bruyneel, who was planning to travel to his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, for Christmas. . “There was a lot of anxiety. “

Bruyneel’s experience is not unique to New York.

People across town line up for hours at test sites as there aren’t enough tests to meet increased demand due to the upcoming holidays, an increase in Covid cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant.

On Monday, the Biden administration announced plans to purchase 500m rapid tests to be provided free to the public in January and to set up new federal test sites.

As public health experts praised the administration’s plan, they warned the country needed more than 500 million tests – and the administration could even struggle to deliver on that promise by due to supply chain issues.

“I am really happy to see the administration change its plans and see a new urgency in public testing,” said Elizabeth Stuart, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I think we have to recognize that 500m sounds like a lot of testing, but with 350 million people in the US, for regular use we’re still going to need more.”

Problems with Covid testing in the United States began at the onset of the pandemic, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention distributed faulty test kits to labs in February 2020.

Then, when vaccines became widely available in 2021 and the country saw a decrease in Covid cases, “everyone thought the testing was going to be unnecessary, and we kind of had some neglect, which happened. proven not to be benign, “said Dr Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who was part of Joe Biden’s advisory team on Covid during the transition.

Things got so slow over the summer that Abbott Laboratories, an Illinois-based test maker, destroyed millions of Covid test cards; canceled contracts with suppliers; and closed a factory doing the tests, according to at the New York Times.

While the number of destroyed test cards was relatively small considering the total number of tests required, “what this has taught us is that we cannot indulge in complacency,” said Mara Aspinall, Arizona State University professor of biomedical diagnostics. “We must maintain our vigilance until we have long gone without new cases.”

The United States continues to lag behind places like Britain, where Covid testing is widely available, as the UK government focused more on testing earlier in the pandemic and heavily subsidized the cost of testing in the country, Aspinall said.

The UK’s public health system also allows them to distribute tests much more efficiently, she said.

“For many countries with nationalized health systems, this is not the first time that they are sending health-related materials and products to their entire population. lower, ”Aspinall said.

As a result, Bruyneel and others in New York City stand in cold weather for hours outside of clinics. The city has seen a 277% increase in Covid cases in the past two weeks, according to at the time, and public health officials expect that number to rise due to the highly infectious variant of Omicron.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 18 of the city’s public hospitals and clinics had wait times of more than an hour, according to a NYC Health + Hospitals dashboard.

To catch up, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must allow more reliable over-the-counter rapid antigen testing, Aspinall said.

In Europe, there are at least 46 over-the-counter Covid tests, Aspinall said. The FDA has only authorized ten, according to at Kaiser Health News.

A declining supply of home Covid tests is seen on a shelf in Racine, Wisconsin on December 19. Photograph: Mark Hertzberg / ZUMA Press Wire / REX / Shutterstock

“The challenge, however, is that we cannot lower the standards,” Aspinall said. “We can’t take tests out and have them low and therefore unreliable. “

To effectively distribute the tests, the federal government must also coordinate with state and local governments rather than having people order them through a website, as the administration intended, said Jason Feldman, CEO of Vault. Health, a virtual healthcare company that provides Covid testing. .

“I’m concerned that the federal government running a federal website may be an imminent disaster,” said Feldman, pointing to the bumpy deployment of Healthcare.gov, the health insurance exchange website created under the Act. affordable care. The only way to effectively distribute the tests “is through state and local governments.” You cannot ask a federal government to send tests to everyone’s homes. Think about the consequences of 350 million people in this country actively ordering tests. “

The National Institutes of Health is already working with states to provide free home test kits to residents. For example, New Hampshire, which has a population of 1.3 million, donated 1 million kits to residents and sold out allotment in one day, according to the state’s health department. The state has not announced when it will offer more testing.

As the federal government pushes to ramp up testing, people are trying to figure out when to test before holiday gatherings – or whether to gather at all.

Bruyneel tested negative but still decided not to travel to Canada for vacation because of the Omicron variant

“It was hard on my mother. She understood, but there were a lot of tears and I feel guilty even though I know it’s the right decision, ”he said.

Long wait times aren’t limited to New York, either.

Until recently, Carly Angott, a videographer in Detroit, could simply walk into a walk-in emergency care clinic and get tested quickly.

Angott gets tested regularly because she has asthma and allergies and works in the control room at Little Caesars Arena, which hosts NBA and NHL games and other big events.

Michigan now has the highest Covid hospitalization rate in the country.

On Sunday, Angott was suffering from chest tightness and post-nasal drip, so she decided to get tested. This time, she had to make an appointment. But on Monday, she still waited in her car for more than two hours after her scheduled appointment to take the test.

Fortunately, the rapid test came back negative, but she is still waiting for the results of the PCR test, which is more accurate but takes longer to process.

Her Christmas party with her mother’s family has been called off as a number of relatives have Covid. Now she just hopes to celebrate with her immediate family.

“We’re a little nervous, but I think more optimistic because everyone we know and love is boosted and doing fine for the most part,” said Angott, 24. “I try to remember it, but it’s hard not to get drawn into the whirlwind of madness.

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