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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Unlike vaccine development, the U.S. rapid testing effort for COVID-19 has been much slower and more expensive than in Europe, and is long overdue for a fix, a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows.

Driving the news: This could become an even bigger problem after the Biden administration announced Thursday a new federal vaccine rule that would require employees who refuse to get vaccinated to get weekly COVID tests.

  • Employers who have already been testing their staffs were caught in bidding wars to secure tests, per Reuters.

The big picture: In total, public health experts have estimated the COVID-19 testing supply chain will need tens of millions of tests per week on the market to keep up with demand in schools and workplaces.

Between the lines: The lack of availability of the rapid home tests in the U.S. was greatly affected by the regulatory framework, supply chain and demand issues, federal investment, federal messaging, and affordability barriers, per KFF.

  • The Biden administration in recent months has been working to address the supply issue and regulation lags — but experts have argued it may not be enough to address all facets of the problem.

Background: Since the creation of COVID rapid testing, the U.S. regulatory system has flip-flopped in being overly cautious and overcorrecting in the rapid test space, according to an investigation out Thursday from ProPublica.

  • The FDA has authorized 16 home tests to 11 companies. 12 are over-the-counter and four require a prescription.
  • The agency had a slew of concerns for antigen or rapid tests warning of the danger of false negatives in the earliest stages of infection. Still, many of the companies applying for Emergency Use Authorization were stalled or rejected even after being approved in other countries.

What to watch: "It will also be important to monitor whether the growing vaccination or testing requirements from employers and other places of business/entertainment will generate more demand for tests and stress the already limited supply," the KFF authors write.

Go deeper

Dec 6, 2021 - Health

CDC raises travel advisories for France, Portugal to highest level amid COVID surge

Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised COVID-19 travel advisories to their highest levels for a number of countries on Monday, including France and Portugal.

Why it matters: The detection of the new Omicron variant last month has spurred fears of a new wave of virus infections.

Dec 6, 2021 - Health

Cruise ship COVID outbreak: Louisiana officials find "probable" Omicron case

The Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship. Photo: Gerard Bottino/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Louisiana health authorities said a suspected Omicron case was one of 17 confirmed COVID-19 infections among the passengers and crew of a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship that returned to New Orleans Sunday.

Driving the news: The Norwegian Breakaway departed New Orleans on Nov. 28 with more than 3,200 people on board, before making stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico, according to a Louisiana Department of Health statement.

Gov. Hochul will order some NY hospitals to halt elective surgeries

New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul COVID-19 addresses rising cases in the state and the new variant Omicron at a press conference in November. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Monday that some state hospitals will be ordered to halt certain elective surgeries in an effort to combat a recent COVID-19 surge, Hochul said at a press conference.

Why it matters: New York has struggled with hospital capacity throughout the pandemic and postponed nonessential procedures before.