Making tests freely available is a welcome move, of course.
But the Administration and the country should have been better prepared for the winter surge that experts have long predicted was coming.
The Coronavirus Brief
Today’s newsletter was written by Alex Fitzpatrick
and edited by Mandy Oaklander.
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
credit to the image: the guardian
As the Omicron variant took hold in the United States over the past few weeks, it quickly became painfully obvious that the country didn’t have enough tests to meet the skyrocketing demand.
In New York City, where the seven-day average of new confirmed cases was nearing the 10,000 mark as of this past weekend (up from about 800 in early November), hours-long lines at testing sites have become commonplace and at-home rapid tests are nearly impossible to find on pharmacy shelves.
Difficulty getting at-home tests is a uniquely American problem among the U.S.’ peer nations.
When I recently posted about the issue on social media, friends from The Netherlands to Israel were dumbfounded at the idea that tests were hard to come by; one Swede told me they’re available at every gas station there for about $6.
The problem, as this excellent ProPublica reporting makes clear, is that U.S. regulators have been too slow to approve multiple kinds of at-home rapid tests.
That led to low availability and high prices as two companies were essentially allowed to dominate a market that should have dozens of participants.
To address the price problem, the Biden Administration earlier this month announced that private health insurers would be required to reimburse people’s at-home test purchases.
But that strategy has inherent flaws:
- it doesn’t do anything to make tests easier to find,
- it assumes that people have the time and energy to go through a reimbursement process-and
- if you’ve ever tried to claw back money from your insurance company, you know what kind of a nightmare that can be-and it doesn’t help the approximately 28 million uninsured Americans.
(To be fair, the White House has also spent billions investing in rapid test production and on sending tests to community centers, the fruits of which are beginning to pay off.)
Now the White House is doing what it should’ve done weeks ago: U.S. President Joe Biden announced today that his administration is purchasing half a billion at-home rapid tests, …
… and any American who wants one will be able to go online and request that one is sent to their home for free beginning next month. It’s exactly the idea that White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appeared to mock not even a month ago, triggering bewilderment among public health experts across the country and the world.
“We have to do more, we have to do better,” Biden said while announcing the plan. “And we will.”
Rapid tests alone can’t end the pandemic.
Only about 20% of the U.S. population has received a booster shot, leaving four of every five Americans at greater risk of severe disease from Omicron.
They can, however, help break the chains of transmission.
At this point in the pandemic, taking a rapid test before getting together with lots of people should be as routine as grabbing your keys and wallet before heading out the door.
But when at-home rapid tests cost $15–20 a pack, that’s out of the question for most people.
The White House should’ve spent the last few months flinging free rapid tests at Americans across the country like souvenir T-shirts at a ballgame.
Instead, we’re living through yet another pandemic holiday season marred by an inescapable sense of unease as the virus once again surges and hospitals fill to the brim.
Making tests freely available is a welcome move, of course. But the Administration and the country should have been better prepared for the winter surge that experts have long predicted was coming.
… the Administration and the country should have been better prepared for the winter surge that experts have long predicted was coming.
Originally published at https://view.newsletters.time.com
TAGS: Pandemic Response Strategies, USA, Pandemic Situation Report, At Home Testing
Jen Psak, iWhite House Press Secretary