JIM MUSTIAN, JEFFREY COLLINS and CANDIS CHOI
NEW YORK (AP) – President Joe Biden has pledged to distribute hundreds of millions of free COVID-19 tests and open more testing centers to combat growing infections, but there will be little time for people looking to find out. if they got infected before the holidays.
Americans searched drugstores for meager home tests or waiting hours at low temperatures in testing centers across the country.
“Not everyone can take a three hour break from work to get tested, but that seems like the only thing we can do,” said Jordan Thomas, who waited nearly four hours for a test this week in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Town.
In Atlanta, pharmacies ran out of home tests and police closed test sites when traffic increased by half a mile or more. A test site in Columbia, South Carolina, where queues were faster for several months than some of the nearby Chick-fil-A restaurants, which waited an hour or more before Christmas. Workers warned that results could take longer than usual, ranging from 24 to 36 hours.
The growing demand for tests is fueled by a number of factors, including families looking to keep holiday gatherings safe and people who need to prove they are free of viruses for travel, work or school. The extra-infectious variant of the omicron increases the pressure, which repeatedly affects the number of people seeking tests after contact with an infected person.
In the United States, infections averaged about 149,000 per day, up from 75,000 per day in early November.
“The rise in infections is pretty dramatic,” said Gigi Gronewall, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which tracked COVID-19 testing efforts during the pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testing can help keep meetings safe, even when people are asymptomatic and not exposed to the virus.
“Get tested before you pack,” agency director Dr. Rochelle Walenski said this week, as omicron has spiked the number of cases ahead of the holidays.
But attempts to follow this guideline and meet the requirements of some employers and schools have limited testing opportunities in many locations.
Detjon Bushgyokai was among hundreds of people seeking the test in Everett, Massachusetts, north of Boston. He waited about 90 minutes after his 6-year-old daughter, who had not yet been vaccinated, tested positive after developing a fever.
“As soon as my wife called, I left work and came here. I work with many people and in different places, so I needed to make sure, ”said Bushgjokai, who was vaccinated. He said his daughter’s illness added uncertainty to their vacation.
In New York, pharmacies have posted signs warning shoppers that they have sold items that failed tests. At some test sites, the blocks were wrapped with stitches, and some said it could take three to four days to get results.
For the next day results, one site listed a price of $ 150. The result in two hours was $ 389.
While the technology to process PCR lab tests takes less than a day, R&D centers and labs face a staffing challenge like many other businesses, said Mara Aspinall, a professor of biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University and on the board of OraSure, COVID-19. test creator.
Manufacturers are working to increase supply. Abbott said it sees “unprecedented demand” for its popular BinaxNOW tests and plans to expand production to 70 million tests in January, up from over 50 million this month. The company said it could increase production even further in the coming months.
Meanwhile, Walgreens said it is limiting the number of people to four boxes to buy in stores and online. CVS said it is limiting the number of purchases to six sets.
In New York City, officials planned to distribute quick home tests to people who have to wait long at test sites to reduce demand. But the city is also having problems with the tests.
Biden announced on Tuesday that the federal government will begin sending 500 million free rapid tests directly to Americans for the first time in January. Details have yet to be released, but officials say people will be able to use the new website to order tests that will be mailed to them for free.
The government will use the Defense Manufacturing Act to produce more tests. New federal testing centers will also be set up starting this week in New York.
The change comes after public health experts have urged US officials for months to make testing more affordable, pointing to countries like the UK and Germany that have circulated billions of tests to their populations and recommended that people get themselves tested twice a week.
Experts say recent efforts will still not be enough to get all Americans to test at that speed. In the US, this will require 2.3 billion tests per month for every person 12 and older, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.
Test availability varies by country.
At the City Children’s Day Camp in Fort Collins, Colorado, express test boxes were available for free this week. The staff told the parents to take as much as they needed.
However, demand for testing will only grow after the holidays, when people want to know if their travels and gatherings have led to infections, said Dr. Markus Plescia, chief physician of the Association of State and Territorial Health Authorities.
And strong demand is likely to continue into 2022 as people rush to resume activities they gave up during the pandemic, Aspinall said.
“Pandemic fatigue escalated into ‘I want to do what I want, when I want to.’ And tests give this knowledge and power, ”she said.
Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press contributors Matthew Perrone in Washington, Philip Marcelo in Boston, Mike Sisak in New York, and Mead Grover in Fort Collins, Colorado contributed to this report.
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