Biden redoubling focus on testing amid shortages, confusion

Washington DC: The Biden administration is redoubling its efforts to expand supply and accessibility of COVID-19 testing as it faces mounting criticism over long lines and supply shortages for testing nationwide and confusion about when to get tested amid the omicron surge.

The White House announced Wednesday that a dedicated stream of 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests will be made available to schools starting this month to ease supply shortages and promote the safe reopening of schools.

It said Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, will join the COVID-19 team to oversee the enhanced testing push. The moves come just days before private insurers will be required to reimburse Americans for tests and the launch of a new federal website for Americans to order free tests to be shipped to their doors.

The test supply push, though, will likely be too late for many Americans trying to safely navigate the omicron-fueled case surge, which is already showing signs of cresting.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday, offered guidance for when Americans should use tests — which were in short supply as Americans traveled and saw family during the busy holiday season.

“Americans should take a test when they have symptoms that appear to be COVID-19,” she said, including fever, cough, sore throat, respiratory symptoms, and muscle aches. She also said they should test after known exposure to the virus, generally five days after being exposed, or earlier as part of test-to-stay protocols in schools and workplaces.

The school testing initiative announced Wednesday comes after the nation’s third-largest public school system, in Chicago, closed for days after an impasse between teachers and officials over reopening policies. The closure was a black eye for President Joe Biden, who made reopening schools — and keeping them open — a priority.

To date, the government has procured only 50 million of the 500 million rapid tests that the White House promised at the start of December to ship American homes, according to Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services.

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