NEW YORK (AP) — President Joe BidenAlthough promises were made to give away hundreds of millions of COVID-19 test kits and open additional testing centers to combat surging infections, the increased efforts won’t be enough to reach those who need them before the holiday season.
Americans spent hours searching drugstores in search of home-tested drugs or waited for cold weather at test facilities all across the nation, looking for answers.
“Not everyone can take three hours off work to get tested, but it feels like it’s the only thing we have the power to do,” said Jordan Thomas, who waited nearly four hours for a test this week in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Atlanta drugstores were unable to provide home testing and officers shut down the sites when traffic was backed up more than a mile. Columbia’s drive-thru testing location had lines that were faster than nearby Chick-fil-A locations for several months. The waits averaged at least an hour before Christmas. Workers said that it was possible for results to take more than 24 to 36 hours.
There are many factors that contribute to the surge in test demand, such as families wanting to protect holiday parties and individuals who need to show they have no virus to travel, work, or school. The additional-contagious micron virus, which can multiply the need for testing after an individual has been infected with the disease, is adding to the stress.
Average infection rates in America are around 149,000 daily, up from 75,000 at the beginning November.
“The rise in infections is pretty dramatic,” said Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has tracked COVID-19 testing efforts during the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that testing is an option to help make sure safety in gatherings.
“Take a test before you gather,” the agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said this week as omicron led to spiking cases ahead of the holidays.
But, despite our best efforts to adhere to this advice and meet certain requirements from schools and employers, testing has been limited in some places.
Detjon Bushgjokaj was one of hundreds who sought a test at Everett in Massachusetts. After his 6-year old daughter developed a fever, Detjon Bushgjokaj waited for about 90 minutes.
“As soon as my wife called, I left work and came right here. I work with a lot of people and in different places so I needed to make sure,” said Bushgjokaj, who is vaccinated. He said his daughter’s illness has added uncertainty to their holiday break.
Drugstores in New York City posted notices warning customers they had sold out. Some testing locations had lines wrapped around blocks, while others said results might take up to three days.
A site quoted a $150 price for next day results. The price for results within two hours was $389.
Although the process of PCR laboratory tests is quick, staffing problems can still be a problem. Mara Aspinall, who teaches at Arizona State University in biomedical diagnostics, and sits on the OraSure board, a COVID-19 test manufacturer, stated that the technology takes only a few hours.
Manufacturers are working hard to improve supplies. Abbott said it’s seeing “unprecedented demand” for its popular BinaxNOW tests and that it plans to expand production to 70 million tests in January, up from more than 50 million this month. According to the company, it is able to increase production further in the coming months.
In the meantime, Walgreens said it’s limiting people to four boxes per purchase in stores and online. CVS said it’s limiting people to six kits per purchase.
Officials in New York City planned to distribute rapid home testing to those who are facing lengthy waits at the testing locations. This was to ease congestion. However, the test are not being granted by the city.
Biden made Tuesday the announcement that in January, the Federal Government would mail 500,000,000 free quick tests to Americans. Officials have yet to release details, but they say that people can use a new website for ordering their rapid tests. They will then be sent to them free of charge.
In order to produce additional tests, the Defense Production Act will be used by government. New federal testing facilities will also be created, with the first being in New York.
These changes are coming after U.S. health professionals for months called on officials to open up testing to more people. They cited countries like Germany and the United Kingdom, who have provided billions of test results to the general public, and suggested that everyone should be tested twice per week.
Experts believe that the current efforts will not suffice to allow all Americans to be tested at such a rapid rate. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the U.S. will need to conduct 2.3 billion test per month to ensure everyone aged 12 or older can participate.
Test availability varies from one country to the next.
At a city-run children’s day camp in Fort Collins, Colorado, boxes of rapid tests were available for free this week. The staff advised parents to use as many rapid tests as needed.
Yet, the demand for testing continues to rise after the holidays when more people want to check if there have been any infections. This is Dr. Marcus Plescia who is the chief medical officer of Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
Aspinall predicted that the high demand for activities will continue into 2022 because people are looking to resume those they have given up since the pandemic.
“The pandemic fatigue has moved into, ‘I want to do what I want, when I want.’ And tests provide that knowledge and power,” she said.
Collins reported from Columbia in South Carolina. Reporting from Columbia, South Carolina was done by Matthew Perrone, Philip Marcelo and Mike Sisak, Associated Press reporters in Washington and Fort Collins, Colorado.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content remains the responsibility of the Associated Press.