Many Americans have been waiting in long lines at free testing sites since before the Christmas and New Year’s holiday rush. Plenty of others are avoiding the lines and paying $20 or more for over-the-counter, at-home tests — if they can find one.
Some have turned to the crowded emergency rooms for help because they don’t know what else to do.
“The current demand for testing far exceeds the testing resources that are available,” said Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
This was evident this week, as many people searched for tests before returning to work or school. President Biden addressed this problem last month when he announced that 500 million tests will be available free of charge starting in January. However, his administration has not set a date for the launch of the program. This is a country that has a population of approximately 330 million.
Jenna Zitomer (25), said that her Westchester family of five has spent approximately $680 on rapid testing in the past months. “It’s pretty crazy, especially since that’s well over half a paycheck for me,” said Ms. Zitomer, a research specialist. “It feels like something we need to start budgeting for every month now, like groceries or utilities. My family might be exposed to Covid-19 if they do not have access to testing. That basically makes it life or death.”
Ms. Zitomer added that at her local testing center, “lines have gotten so long that they started canceling appointments and full days of testing because the drive-through lines cause traffic problems.”
Britt Crow Miller, 35-year-old senior lecturer at University of Massachusetts Amherst said that her family has spent about $500 on at home test kits. A single round costs around $100 for two adults and three kids. “Who can afford that every time someone has the sniffles?” she said. “As a person fortunate enough to be well-employed and have a partner who is also well-employed, I am very conscious of the fact that at-home testing is essentially a luxury.”
And yet, Ms. Crow-Miller, said that if one of the children “wakes up with a scratchy throat, I don’t feel like a responsible community member sending them to school without first giving them a test.”
Elizabeth Sasser, 24, a network planning analyst living in Syracuse, N.Y., said her expenses for tests — about $300 — was well spent. “My family also did have asymptomatic positives,” she said, “which would have likely led to more infections if it had not been for the prior purchase of at-home tests.”
Since the outbreak, there have been several gaps in testing capacities.
Researchers scrambled to locate the liquids and swabs needed to collect and store samples in early 2020. They were sent to laboratories for the polymerase chain reaction (or P.C.R.) test, which is considered the gold standard for viral detection. U.S. testing delays continued into that summer because of a shortage in tiny pieces of tapered plastic called pipette tips that are used for moving liquid between vials.
Equipment shortage is not the weak link in the supply chain. New problems have emerged. One is that demand is outstripping supplies.
There is also preliminary evidence that the at-home antigen tests many Americans rely on — at least as currently administered, with a nasal swab — may fail to detect some Omicron cases in the first days of infection. Researchers have found that Omicron spreads faster in the mouth and throat than in the nose.
This could make it more difficult to defeat the current wave. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Omicron accounts for 95% of all new cases.
Scientists agree that at-home testing is still an important tool in public health. It can deliver results in minutes. Because it can take several days to receive results from P.C.R., positive results are particularly informative. The tests. A negative at-home test should not be taken lightly.
“Everyone wants these tests to do more than they can,” Dr. Osterholm said.
Source: NY Times