By Steve Burke
Pinkston News Service
The White House recently announced a new $1 billion investment to increase the supply of rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to more than 200 million per month by December. It is a signal from the Biden administration that although U.S. cases continue to decline, aggressive public health initiatives and mitigation measures must still be pursued, including testing.
Health experts advise that testing can provide some valuable peace of mind, especially for people traveling to see family and friends during the upcoming holiday season.
“When you’re gathering around the holidays, you have to assess the circumstances. If you have younger kids who are unvaccinated with older relatives who are vaccinated, but still could be vulnerable from a breakthrough infection, using testing… makes a lot of sense,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said recently.
But as testing ramps up to better meet continuing demand, Americans will still have to navigate a maze of testing options and protocols. For those wondering what type of test is best for them, experts recommend framing the search for a test around one central question: why do you want to get tested?
Rapid antigen tests, the type promoted by the Biden administration, can be particularly effective at helping someone determine within minutes whether they are putting themselves and others at risk. These affordable tests “have a very unique ability to detect what matters most for public health, which is to answer the question, ‘Am I infectious?” said Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health at a recent UC San Francisco online forum. As UC San Francisco department of medicine chair Robert Wachter told the Wall Street Journal, rapid tests allow you to “hop on the virus early so it doesn’t have the chance to replicate and descend into your lungs.”
In a recent New York Times essay calling for the United States to prioritize rapid testing, Mina and Dr. Stephen Phillips opined that the “regular use of rapid tests can make schools and workplaces safer,” and “make everyday activities — including indoor ones, such as dinner parties, play dates, weddings and visits with grandparents — less risky.”
Rapid antigen tests may sometimes fall short for people traveling internationally. That’s because many over-the-counter tests do not deliver the verified test results required by the CDC for border entry. To meet this need for verified test results, new telehealth companies like eMed (www.emed.com) offer at-home rapid testing with the added convenience of a virtual test guide who can provide certified results suitable for passengers re-entering the U.S.
For people who have COVID-19 symptoms, the general consensus is that a PCR test is in order, regardless of vaccination status. PCR tests require that a sample be analyzed in a laboratory setting to determine if any of the virus’s genetic material is present. While PCR test results generally take between a couple of hours and a few days to deliver, they are highly reliable, according to the CDC. For individuals without symptoms, a PCR test still might be necessary to meet entry requirements for some concerts, sporting events and more.
Even with the Biden administration’s efforts to boost test availability, supply chain difficulties or spikes in demand might limit testing options available locally.
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