Testing is once again becoming a critical weakness in America's response to the coronavirus pandemic, and experts say we may need to revive tighter standards about who can get a test.
Why it matters: Although testing has gotten a lot better over the course of the pandemic, the pandemic has gotten worse, and that means the U.S. needs to prioritize its resources — which might mean that frequent testing solely to help open businesses or schools just isn't feasible.
Where it stands: The U.S. is conducting more than 800,000 tests per day, on average — an enormous leap from the severe testing shortages the country experienced in the spring. But it's still not enough to keep up with demand.
- Getting the results of a test often takes take longer than a week, and sometimes almost two weeks, which makes them a lot less helpful.
The big picture: Two factors are driving demand for tests higher than the system can handle: the high U.S. caseload; and precautionary testing tied to reopening.
- Reducing turnaround times will require doing fewer tests, "and that's in some ways taking a step backward," said Johns Hopkins' Caitlin Rivers. But "there is a need to identify, 'Who really does need a test? And for whom should that be high quality?'"
Between the lines: That may dash the hopes of using frequent testing as a tool to resume work, travel or other elements of pre-pandemic life, at least for now.
- But given how easily people can spread the virus before they begin to feel sick, testing still needs to be available to a lot of people who aren't symptomatic or don't know for sure that they were exposed to the virus.
The bottom line: Ultimately, the best way to reduce pressure on our testing infrastructure would be to reduce the number of cases, which reduces the number of people at risk of infection.