2021-10-06 12:21:41 The Search for a Covid Test
The Search for a Covid Test
Yesterday, I attempted to purchase a rapid at-home Covid test, but the search did not go well.
My neighborhood CVS didn’t have any. On CVS’s website, I discovered a store several miles away that claimed to have the tests in stock — but after driving there, I discovered otherwise. I did find one available option on Amazon: a box of 90 rapid tests. It set you back $1,122.75.
When I told my colleagues about my misfortune during our daily news meeting, one of them, Claire Moses, an editor based in London, offered to send me some tests via trans-Atlantic mail. Claire explained that at-home tests are so widely available in the UK that she could send a few to every member of The Morning’s editorial team.
I declined because I didn’t have an immediate need for a test. I was looking for one partly to see how the experience went. I also anticipate that my family will require rapid tests at some point.
If you wake up with a runny nose or scratchy throat, you should be able to grab a Covid-19 test from your bathroom shelf and get the results in minutes. The tests are available. They are known as antigen tests, and they are widely available not only in the United Kingdom, but also in France, Germany, and other countries. Rapid tests can identify approximately 98 percent of infectious Covid cases and have contributed to the virus’s reduction in spread in Europe.
Rapid tests, on the other hand, are difficult to come by in the United States because the Food and Drug Administration has been slow to approve them. Officials from the Food and Drug Administration have defended their reluctance by claiming that they need to ensure that the tests work, which they clearly do. Many outside scientists, however, have criticized the agency for blocking even antigen tests that have a track record of success in other countries.
The Food and Drug Administration has preferred a different type of test known as a P.C.R. test, which is sensitive enough to detect many noninfectious cases (including some that are weeks old). However, there is a significant disadvantage to P.C.R. tests: many must be processed in a laboratory and take more than 24 hours to return results. Meanwhile, a person infected with Covid may spread it to others.
Fortunately, today’s newsletter isn’t just another rehash of this country’s testing flaws. This week has brought some news. Americans will most likely have better access to rapid tests in the near future than they do now.
More tests are coming soon.
The Food and Drug Administration announced on Monday that it would allow the sale of an antigen test known as Flowflex. The test has been available in Europe but not in the United States, despite the fact that the manufacturer, Acon Laboratories, is based in San Diego.
According to Alex Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University and an advocate of expanded testing, the decision suggests that the FDA has become willing to approve other rapid tests as well. Separately, a White House official told me last night that the Biden administration intends to announce an expansion of rapid testing today. It will be a $1 billion government purchase of tests to speed up production, on top of other funds already allocated to rapid tests by the administration.
According to the official, these actions will quadruple the number of rapid tests available to Americans by early December. Some of the tests will be free (as they are in Europe, thanks to government subsidies), and will be available at one of approximately 20,000 pharmacies or 10,000 community clinics across the country. Others will be available for purchase at retailers.
Until now, antigen tests like the ones sold by CVS have typically cost around $12 in the United States. The influx of supply should lower the cost, allowing antigen tests to play a larger role in this country’s Covid response.
“There’s been a lot of infection spread and a lot of disruption in people’s lives because we don’t have proper testing,” Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins University said on MSNBC yesterday. “You can make an event very, very safe if you can test quickly and know your status.”
“If we’re smart,” says Tabarrok, “we’ll replace masks with tests in schools, workplaces, and Thanksgiving celebrations.” (In a recent profile of Tabarrok, Times Opinion’s Ezra Klein writes that his Covid arguments have “repeatedly been proven right.”)
Rapid tests are too late to do nearly as much good as they could have done last year, before vaccines were widely available. When future historians and scientists assess the United States’ response to the pandemic, testing will almost certainly be regarded as a major F.D.A. failure, spanning both the Trump and Biden administrations. It’s been a case study in how bureaucratic caution — and a refusal to be creative in the face of a crisis — can backfire.
However, it is not too late for rapid tests to improve daily life. Finally, the Biden administration appears to be taking significant steps in that direction.
The Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, told a Senate panel that the company had ignored its harmful effects on young people in order to maximize profits. Mark Zuckerberg responded to the allegations.
The hearing brought together Republican and Democratic senators, who discussed possible legislation to hold Facebook accountable.
“Haugen really conveyed how Facebook’s business model relies on constantly tweaking algorithms to keep people engaged — even if it means showing them harmful content,” Sheera Frenkel of The New York Times wrote.