New hurdle to COVID-19 home testing – the holidays – Community News
Covid-19

New hurdle to COVID-19 home testing – the holidays

WASHINGTON (AP) — Millions more at-home tests for COVID-19 hit store shelves, but will there be enough for Americans hoping to self-screen before holiday gatherings?

Gone are last year’s long lines to get tested, thanks to nearly a year of vaccinations, more testing supplies and faster options. But with many unvaccinated Americans and reports of infections among those who received the injections, some are looking to home testing for an extra layer of safety ahead of this year’s festivities.

Janis Alpine from Seattle gets together with seven family members for Thanksgiving, including her 97-year-old father. While everyone is vaccinated, she plans to bring enough Abbott rapid tests for them to use.

“I’m just used to testing now,” said Alpine, who is retired. “Even though he’s vaccinated, getting a little sick probably isn’t the best thing for a 97-year-old.”

She began testing herself regularly in September after flights to Las Vegas and the East Coast for vacation. Because local pharmacies sometimes run out of tests, she usually buys five packs at a time when she finds them.

After weeks of shortages, chains like CVS and Walgreens now say they have ample supplies and have recently lifted limits on how many can be bought at one time. The shift comes after testmakers ramped up production, spurred by more than $3 billion in new procurement contracts and government assistance. Home tests are usually over $10 each and take about 15 minutes.

Despite the improving picture, health experts warn that a winter surge could easily overwhelm supplies, especially as holiday gatherings and colder weather continue to spark new outbreaks across the country. And they note that the US is far from having the kind of cheap or free widespread testing seen in some European countries that have adopted the technology as early adopters.

“Unfortunately, we will still be catching up until next year or until demand subsides,” said Neil Sehgal, a health policy specialist at the University of Maryland.

White House officials say the US is on track to have about 200 million home tests per month by December, a fourfold increase since this summer. Still, space shortages persist, especially in cities and suburban communities with higher testing rates.

“I couldn’t find them for the longest time,” said Denise Weiss, a retired musician in suburban Philadelphia.

She was able to take six tests online last month and plans to share them with family members, most notably her son and daughter who are traveling home for Thanksgiving by plane and train.

Market leader Abbott says it is back to producing 50 million BinaxNow tests per month, after cutting production last summer when demand for testing plummeted. Only a few at-home tests are available nationwide, and new ones will be launched, including from Acon Laboratories.

Much of the upcoming offerings won’t be available at places like CVS, Walmart, and Target. Bulk purchases by federal and state officials will be distributed to community health centers, nursing homes, schools and other government facilities.

Major employers and private universities are also buying up millions of tests. Under the Biden government’s vaccine mandate for major employers, workers who have not been vaccinated would be tested weekly from January.

“We have a small challenge right now and the math isn’t perfect,” said Mara Aspinall, a health industry researcher at Arizona State University. “While it’s great to have these tests on the shelves so people can feel empowered personally, we also need to balance where they’re going.”

Under pressure from the Biden administration, the Food and Drug Administration has approved home testing at an accelerated pace, approving four of the 13 tests now available in the past two months. In an unusual move, the White House recently announced that the National Institutes of Health will help research the most promising. But companies need time to create and distribute the tests.

The US made huge initial investments in vaccines, essentially betting that widespread immunity would crush the pandemic. But with about 60 million Americans ages 12 and older still unvaccinated, experts say every region of the country is still vulnerable to the kind of outbreaks that flare up in states like Michigan and New Mexico.

For testing proponents, the persistence of the pandemic underscores the need for rapid, widespread COVID-19 screening to catch infections quickly before they spread — an approach they’ve championed since the start of the U.S. outbreak.

Countries like Britain distribute billions of tests for free and recommend testing twice a week. If the US took that approach for everyone 12 years and older, it would require 2.3 billion tests per month, researchers at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation noted in a recent report. That’s more than seven times the 300 million monthly tests officials hope the country will have by February.

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Follow Matthew Perrone on Twitter: @AP_FDAwriter

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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