The ongoing U.S. failure on rapid COVID tests
The lightning-quick spread of the Omicron variant has finally made clear the value of cheap and accessible rapid at-home COVID tests.
Why it matters: Omicron moves fast, and rapid tests that can prove infectiousness instantly, rather than PCR lab tests that can take days to get results, can help to stem the spread.
- But new U.S. policies to provide more tests for free are likely too little, too late to make a meaningful dent in this wave.
Driving the news: Yesterday, President Biden announced his administration would purchase 500 million rapid tests this winter and make them available for Americans to order for free, with the first shipment arriving in January.
- The White House will also establish new testing sites and invoke the Defense Production Act to help manufacture more diagnostics.
The big picture: While more tests will help — as will providing them free of charge — the U.S. is still hamstrung by months of neglecting the importance of rapid tests and by the FDA's sluggish moves to approve more of them.
- "Rapid tests are one of the most powerful tools that have not really been utilized in a powerful way in this pandemic," Michael Mina, a former Harvard epidemiologist who is now the chief science officer of the home testing company eMed, said in a press event yesterday.
- But making at-home tests free won't help much if supplies remain scarce, and 500 million won't go far if Americans are expected to use tests whenever they gather for the foreseeable future.
- But they sure would be nice to have now.