Lower 48 COVID-19 test search means sold-out signs, long lines


NEW YORK – President Joe Biden has pledged to distribute hundreds of millions of free COVID-19 tests and open more testing sites to fight growing infections, but the increased efforts will not come in time for people who want to know if they are infected before the holidays.

Americans searched drugstores for rare home tests or cold weather wait hours at testing facilities across the country.

“Not everyone can take three hours off to get tested, but it feels like it’s the only thing we have the power to do,” said Jordan Thomas, who waited almost four. hours for a test this week in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York. City.

In Atlanta, pharmacies ran out of home tests, and police shut down testing sites as traffic retreated half a mile or more. A drive-thru test site in Columbia, SC that for months had faster lines than some nearby Chick-fil-A restaurants had waited an hour or more before Christmas. Workers warned that results could take longer than the usual 24 to 36 hours.

The growing demand for testing is being fueled by a mix of factors, including families looking to keep holiday gatherings safe and people needing to prove they are virus-free to travel, work or go to school. The extra-contagious variant of omicron adds to the pressure, which has a multiplying effect on the number of people seeking tests after being exposed to an infected person.

In the United States, infections average about 149,000 per day, up from 75,000 per day in early November.

“The increase in infections is quite dramatic,” said Gigi Gronvall, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has been tracking COVID-19 testing efforts during the pandemic.

[Confusing information leaves pandemic-weary Americans on their own as omicron rages into the holidays]

Testing can help keep gatherings safe, even if people have no symptoms and have not been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Get tested before you get together,” agency director Dr Rochelle Walensky said this week as omicron led to spikes in cases before the holidays.

But efforts to follow these guidelines and meet the requirements of some employers and schools have strained testing capacity in many places.

Detjon Bushgjokaj was among hundreds of people seeking a test in Everett, Massachusetts, just north of Boston. He waited about 90 minutes after his 6-year-old daughter, who has yet to be vaccinated, tested positive after falling ill with a fever.

“As soon as my wife called, I left work and came here. I work with a lot of people and in different places so I had to make sure, ”said Bushgjokaj, who is vaccinated. He said his daughter’s illness added uncertainty to their vacation.

In New York City, pharmacies have posted signs warning customers that they have run out of tests. Lines wrapped around blocks at some testing sites, with some saying results could take three to four days.

For the next day’s results, one site quoted a price of $ 150. For results in two hours, the price was $ 389.

Although the technology to process PCR lab tests takes less than a day, test sites and labs face personnel challenges like many other businesses, said Mara Aspinall, who teaches biomedical diagnostics at the Arizona State University and is on the board of directors for OraSure, a COVID-19 testing manufacturer.

Manufacturers are striving to increase supplies. Abbott said it is seeing “unprecedented demand” for its popular BinaxNOW tests and that it plans to expand production to 70 million tests in January, from more than 50 million this month. The company said it could further increase production in the coming months.

In the meantime, Walgreens has said it is limiting people to four boxes per purchase in stores and online. CVS said it is limiting people to six kits per purchase.

In New York, authorities were planning to distribute rapid home tests to people facing long waits at testing sites to help reduce demand. But the city is also struggling to secure testing.

Biden announced on Tuesday that the federal government would for the first time begin sending 500 million free rapid tests directly to Americans in January. Details have not yet been released, but officials say people will be able to use a new website to order their tests, which will be mailed to them at no cost.

The government will use the Defense Production Act to help manufacture more tests. New federal test sites will also be set up, starting this week in New York City.

The changes come after public health experts have urged U.S. officials for months to make testing more accessible, pointing to countries like the UK and Germany, which have distributed billions of tests to the public and recommended that people test themselves twice a week.

Experts say the latest efforts still won’t be enough to get all Americans testing at this rate. The United States would need 2.3 billion tests per month for all ages 12 and up, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Availability of tests varies across the country.

At a children’s day camp run by the city of Fort Collins, Colo., Rapid test boxes were available for free this week. Staff told parents to take as much as they needed.

Still, demand for testing is only expected to increase after the holidays, when people will want to know if their travels and gatherings have resulted in infections, noted Dr Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of Health Officials. states and territories.

And strong demand will likely persist until 2022 as people look to resume the businesses they left during the pandemic, Aspinall said.

“The fatigue linked to the pandemic has turned into ‘I want to do what I want, when I want. “And the tests provide that knowledge and that power,” she said.

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Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press editors Matthew Perrone in Washington, Philip Marcelo in Boston, Mike Sisak in New York, and Mead Gruver in Fort Collins, Colorado, contributed to this report.


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