Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the message on whether to test, when to test and what test to use has shifted wildly, depending on several variables. With each new spike or variant, instructions pivot, often leaving confusion and frustration in their wake.
Now, as the United States battles the peak of the Omicron variant, people may wonder if they should test or not, depending on their symptoms, spread of the virus, and recommendations from the CDC and local health departments.
Confusion and Annoyance
Throughout the pandemic, one thing has been certain: the lack of certainty. The messaging from political leaders, health departments, and even the CDC has often been contradictory, confusing, and ever-changing. While that may be expected when faced with an unprecedented pandemic such as the one the country has been weathering, it has led to some hiccups in the mitigation approach.
Currently, the CDC recommends that a person test if:
– They are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
– They have had known or suspected exposure to COVID-19
– Screening for schools, workplaces, etc.
– Before travel
– When requested by a healthcare professional or public health official
However, with news that many people are walking around asymptomatic and the pervasive thought that the Omicron variant mimics the common cold or flu symptoms, many people have decided to forgo testing. A strong message being pushed by some politicians and healthcare experts is that everyone will eventually get the virus. This idea of eventual infection for all has affected some people’s decision to test or not. It has created a see-saw effect, where some folks have abandoned testing altogether because they no longer see the point, or they ramp up their testing to keep tabs on their virus status before they go anywhere or gather in groups.
Shortages Reach Peak Levels
The supply chain shortage has reached nearly every industry, and the healthcare industry is no exception.
Graig Robinson, CEO of Diagnostic Service Center, has seen this first hand, but he has a positive outlook on the near future as the country works its way through this latest variant.
“Our ability to test at home is a powerful thing,” Robinson told CBN News, “Supply chain is always going to be a thing whenever you start talking about a pandemic or crisis. There’s going to be wins and losses.”
Supply chain issues with the at-home tests have created massive lines at testing sites, the inability to get at-home tests at stores, and even massive price gouging on available tests. This week, the Biden Administration approved four free tests per household from the federal government, a response that has led to relief for some and criticism from others. In 2021, the administration had partnered with stores like Kroger and Walmart to sell at-home tests at cost. That partnership has since expired.
The at-home test shortage has led to a feeling of malaise and defeat from many, who have decided to give up on testing altogether.
The trajectory of the pandemic will likely continue to inform people’s decisions on whether or not to test. As talk turns to COVID-19 becoming endemic, meaning it will be regularly found in the population much like the flu, testing regularity may be affected.
According to the New York Times, it’s nearly impossible to know how many at-home tests are utilized daily, but experts agree that the number was likely far higher than thought at the end of 2021.
Experts agree that regular testing and the availability of at-home tests must be part of a comprehensive mitigation strategy as the Omicron variant spikes, and we all anticipate what may be coming next.
Ideally, anyone who felt they needed a COVID test or wanted one could get one. However, the country is not at that place just yet. The government’s free tests will start to show up in mailboxes at the end of January 2022. Each household is only being allotted eight at-home tests a month, which falls short of a surplus for many families. Test manufacturers are answering the shortage by ramping up production. However, they are also being affected by the Omicron spike and staffing shortages, which have a trickle-down effect on production.
Currently, the CDC’s recommendation is Omicron-spike specific recommends testing if you have symptoms or within five to seven days of known exposure. An issue many people have been running into with Omicron is testing too early after exposure when the viral load is not yet detectable. The CDC also recommends taking two tests over a few days due to the viral load issue.
New directives from the CDC state that upon a positive at-home test result people should isolate for a minimum of five days and wear a mask for five days following that. They recommend at-home testing after the five days, but all of the recommendations are dependent on the availability of at-home tests.
The vicious supply chain and testing protocol cycle are clear.
The entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a seemingly endless roller coaster of contradictory opinions and recommendations. With each twist and turn, people tighten their grip and hang on to what is coming next.
The decision to test is personal, depending on each person’s comfort level and how they are feeling. For certain, regular testing and a focus on ramping up availability of at-home tests are essential to bringing the pandemic to its eventual end, however that may look.