Four months into the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, tests for the virus finally are becoming widely available, a crucial step toward lifting stay-at-home orders and safely returning to normal life. But while many states no longer report crippling supply shortages, a new problem has emerged: too few people lining up to get tested.Althouse wonders Does everything have to be a problem? Answer: Yes.
A Washington Post survey of governors’ offices and state health departments found at least a dozen states where testing capacity outstrips the supply of patients. Many have scrambled to make testing more convenient, especially for vulnerable communities, by setting up pop-up sites and developing apps that help assess symptoms, find free test sites and deliver quick results.
But the numbers, while rising, are well short of capacity — and far short of targets set by independent experts. Utah, for example, is conducting about 3,500 tests a day, a little more than a third of its 9,000-test maximum capacity, and health officials have erected highway billboards begging drivers to “GET TESTED FOR COVID-19.”
Why aren’t more people showing up? “Well, that’s the million-dollar question,” said Utah Health Department spokesman Tom Hudachko. “It could be simply that people don’t want to be tested. It could be that people feel like they don’t need to be tested. It could be that people are so mildly symptomatic that they’re just not concerned that having a positive lab result would actually change their course in any meaningful way.”
Experts say several factors may be preventing more people from seeking tests, including a lingering sense of scarcity, a lack of access in rural and underserved communities, concerns about cost, and skepticism about testing operations.
“We know there’s a lack of trust in the African American community with the medical profession,” said Ala Stanford, a pediatric surgeon in Philadelphia who started a group to provide free testing in low-income and minority communities, which have been hit particularly hard by the virus. The effort, which offers testing in church parking lots, has serviced more than 3,000 people in recent weeks.
“You’ve got to meet people where they are,” Stanford said.
Another major hurdle: lingering confusion about who qualifies. In the earliest days of the outbreak, Americans were told that only the sickest and most vulnerable should get tested while others should stay home. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its guidelines to offer tests to people without symptoms who are referred by local health departments or clinicians.
Some states have since relaxed their testing criteria dramatically. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has encouraged “all Georgians, even if they are not experiencing symptoms, to schedule an appointment.” And Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) urged residents earlier this month to “call 2-1-1 and find a location close to you, even if you don’t have symptoms and you’re just curious.”
Elsewhere, officials scarred by shortages have been hesitant to follow suit.
“A lot of states put in very, very restrictive testing policies . . . because they didn’t have any tests. And they’ve either not relaxed those, or the word is not getting out,” said Ashish Jha, who directs the Harvard Global Health Institute. “We want to be at a point where everybody who has mild symptoms is tested. That is critical. That is still not happening in a lot of places.”
According to the COVID Tracking Project, the nation is currently testing about 330,000 people a day, a rate that, if sustained, would cover about 3 percent of the population a month. That’s double last month’s average, achieving a goal set by the White House, but still far short of the number most independent analysts say will be needed to avoid another wave of death and illness in the months ahead.
Recently, the problem that was portrayed as the thing that was thwarting our hope of returning to normalcy was not enough tests! So more tests were provided, and can we not be happy about it? No! The next problem up is: People aren't showing up to take the tests.There's no doubt the CDC and the FDA fucked up the WuFlu testing program early, with a contaminated reagent for a test that was unnecessarily complicated, and excessive bureauracy and regulations. Once the problem reached the White House's attention, that matter has been swiftly rectified. Now, the problem is distribution, getting the tests to the places that need them without sending excessive numbers of kits to the places, like New York, with the political clout to commandeer them.
In an ideal world, if one can imagine an ideal world with WuFlu, tests would be essentially infinite in number, with plenty to go around, cost nothing, and not be unpleasant to take, and we could all get tested on demand. We don't live in that world. Tests cost money, even when the government is paying for them, they take time and resources better used elsewhere.
If you think you have symptoms, or have been in recent contact with someone who has had WuFlu, or if you're contacted for contact tracing, get the test. Otherwise, hold off.