COVID-19 Updates: The government vowed 500 million free test kits!

President Biden has told Americans to provide 500 million free coronavirus screenings. Still, assistance is at least weeks, if not months, away for nervous Americans confronted with a rise in new viral infections.

Mr. Biden’s government has yet to finalize a contract to purchase the tests, and the ordering page will not be operational until January. Officials have not provided an estimate of how many tests would be ordered or how soon they will be supplied once they become available next month.

Manufacturers assert that they are already churning out tests at a breakneck pace.

Mr. Biden, as a candidate, blasted the Trump administration’s lack of testing, declaring in March 2020 that “the administration’s failure on testing is massive, and it is a failure of strategy, leadership, and execution.”

However, as the president has admitted, the Omicron form caught the White House off guard, and cases have far outstripped the government’s capacity to make testing accessible.

The president’s commitment to a half-billion tests on Tuesday focused on a more aggressive testing drive unveiled just days before Christmas, as Americans scramble to locate the most difficult-to-find exams. As a result, they know whether they have been infected throughout the Christmas season.

“That is not a strategy. It is a wish, “Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which monitors testing patterns, confirmed this.

“If those tests occurred in January and February, they might have an effect; but, if they occur over 10 to 12 months, I’m not sure what effect they will have.”

Officials stated that contracts to buy tests could be finalized next week.

It is uncertain if and when testing manufacturers can scale production to deliver an additional 500 million at-home tests.

Abbott Laboratories’ John M. Koval, a spokesperson for the business, a leading maker of rapid at-home antigen testing, said in an email message that the company is seeing “exceptional demand” for its tests and is “sending them out as quickly as we can.”

Mr. Koval said that the corporation operates its production units around the clock, investing in automation and expanding its workforce. Abbott will conduct 70 million tests in January and “can dramatically ramp up in the months ahead,” he added.

Illume, an Australian maker of a rival quick test, said in a statement that it is “prepared to fulfill the additional demand” by providing the government with 8.5 million tests and establishing a new production site in Frederick, Maryland, in January. When fully operating, the factory will have the capacity to manufacture 15 million tests every month.

The Biden plan encountered competition from state and local officials who reached out forward of the president. 

Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan stated that his administration would make 500,000 Abbott at-home testing accessible in Maryland. In October, Colorado started offering free at-home exams.

Numerous cities and towns around Massachusetts have already begun offering free exams as part of a new statewide initiative.

According to experts, it is improbable that all 500 million new tests will become accessible simultaneously. Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and former Harvard professor who has often advocated for more testing usage, said they would be spread over two to three months.

“Had this been begun years before, maybe the outcome would have been different,” said Dr. Mina, who was recently appointed chief scientific officer of eMed, a company that provides at-home diagnostics. “However, this is where we are today, and we must deal with it.”

Lack of at-home testing is not a problem exclusive to the United States. In the previous week, headlines have reported on lengthy testing queues in Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Ireland.

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Government Has Raised Testing Methods

Additionally, the White House stated that the government had enhanced various testing techniques in recent months, including providing 50 million free tests to community health clinics and assisting in high-risk areas.

By next week, a C.D.C. staff will be in New York City assisting with the provision of an extra 25,000 of the more sensitive laboratory-conducted tests.

According to city authorities, the first mobile site debuted in Queens on Wednesday, and two more will open in Flushing and East Elmhurst on Thursday.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, stated Wednesday that the 500 million tests represent “our largest buy too far.”

“It is undeniably a substantial commitment, an acknowledgment by the president that we must do more,” she added.

Mr. Biden sees the race to remedy the testing shortage as an unsettling resemblance to the Trump administration’s failure to roll out testing at the start of the epidemic in 2020.

The Trump administration faced supply difficulties, and a president claimed that testing inflated caseload figures and tarnished his reputation.

Mr. Biden campaigned on a promise to increase the availability of testing. Nonetheless, he eventually devoted almost all of his reaction to vaccinations. Abbott destroyed millions of tests in August, just as demand for the Delta variety increased.

Lack Of Tests

At the start of the epidemic, a shortage of testing blinded the government to the virus’s rapid spread, a failure that led to the first wave’s high death toll.

Mr. Biden said at the time that if elected president, he would establish a pandemic testing board — a pun on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s War Production Board — and significantly expand testing.

“Unambiguously, testing saves lives, and comprehensive testing is critical to reopening our economy,” Mr. Biden said in June 2020.

Mr. Biden’s administration kept those pledges early in his tenure, assisting states in establishing a network of drive-through testing locations to accelerate the development of fast, in-home examinations.

According to White House officials, he established a testing board comprised of representatives from numerous federal departments.

The Food and Drug Administration had sped the approval of at-home tests, which now number in the dozens, up from none when he started office.

However, drive-in locations mostly shuttered throughout the summer due to declining demand as vaccination rates increased and caseloads decreased. 

At the time, the C.D.C. advised Americans who had been vaccinated not to seek testing if they had been exposed to the coronavirus but did not exhibit symptoms. In September, the agency overturned that instruction.

According to Johns Hopkins statistics, the United States performed an average of 1.8 million tests every day in January. Still, that figure had decreased to 424,000 by July, even as the Delta strain started to appear. (The current average is 1.57 million tests each day.)

According to Dr. Nuzzo of Johns Hopkins, Abbott’s samples were destroyed in August, just when the administration should have been prepared for an autumn and winter increase.

“There was no forward-thinking, ‘What if instances increase again?’ How will we rebuild the infrastructure that we have let to deteriorate?'” she said, adding that “it was a very real anticipation that cases will increase again.”

After Omicron struck in late November, the president declared that people with private insurance might be paid for at-home testing and committed to providing 50 million fast tests to community health centers.

The Tuesday testing statement, which extended on that pledge, highlighted how the Omicron surge surprised the White House, as Mr. Biden admitted when questioned by reporters at the White House.

“What occurred was that the Omicron virus propagated far faster than anybody anticipated,” Mr. Biden said.

“If I had told you four weeks ago that this would expand by 50%, 100%, or 200 percent daily, I believe you would have looked at me and asked, ‘Biden, what are you drinking?'”

Test creators still encounter the challenge of trying to predict 

Amazon competes with logistics businesses for a limited supply of warehouse and distribution personnel, and the online retailer may offer beginning pay that surpasses the market rate.

“It’s challenging to the court that labor,” said Thomas Goldsby, a University of Tennessee logistics expert.

Additionally, quick test manufacturers must estimate if a major capital expenditure for much-needed rapid test capacity will still pay off in eight years or even eight months.

“Those who figure this out’ seem to be the brightest students in the class, but this is a game of chance,” Goldsby said. “No one wants to be left with enormous inventory after the music has stopped.”

Though it was impossible to anticipate the sudden and overwhelming demand for tests, health experts say there should have been a greater emphasis on ramping up test production capacity earlier on, rather than just vaccine production, particularly given experts’ warnings that rapid testing capacity needed to be increased.

“I am upset,” Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist, said. “The fact that it was difficult to get exams throughout the summer should have been sufficient to indicate, ‘Let’s burrow down and ensure we have enough tests during the holidays.'”

In March, one of her colleagues penned an opinion article for the New York Times stating that there were too few quick antigen tests available and that they were prohibitively costly, a situation that has only become worse over the last ten months.

“Everybody expected that circumstances would deteriorate more throughout the winter. We were unaware it would be Omicron, “As Nuzzo said.

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