Astra audio: How we ignored the most popular COVID prevention – the tests
Audio Astra reviews recent audio reports on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio reports. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.
The Daily, December 22, 2021
Have you read the news accounts of Americans protesting against COVID-19 testing sites? The dozens of people painting signs and aggressively marching outside the test sites. Angry crowds of anti-testing parents disrupting school board meetings. Officials have complained about how cotton swabs implant a microchip into our unsuspecting noses.
This is because testing is the most popular intervention against the virus. We find the tests a bit uncomfortable, of course. But for many Americans, it’s better than alternative COVID precautions.
Large swathes of America refuse to fully immunize, let alone schedule reminder appointments. Masking is still sometimes seen as an illegal and suffocating interference with freedom. Testing remains, at this politically divided moment, as popular as … well, I had a hard time completing that analogy because 85% of Americans supported testing about a year ago. We to disagree on anything this way these days.
Last week in Britain there was a protest against the tests. The hitting line? The demonstration was an accident. Anti-vaccination activists broke into a vaccination clinic, disrupting workers, stealing equipment and making a scene for cameras. The crowd appears to have mistaken the testing site for a vaccination location, a mistake that says more about their intellect than their message about vaccines.
But test? Everyone is asking for tests.
COVID infections hit my family this week. During the first 21 months of the pandemic, our family of four did not have a single exposure that required us to quarantine. No close contacts. No positive test. No child expelled from school.
This week was different. My family has had a positive case and countless exposures as uncles, cousins, siblings, partners, nieces, nephews and more have been infected. We texted about the tight chest, sniffle nose, cough, vomiting, and fever. My phone was vibrating with pictures of children squashed on the living room floor and positive test strips sitting on the bathroom counters. (My family’s cases here in Kansas were mild, thanks to strict adherence to vaccination recommendations.)
Even so, the power surge fed by the omicron sent me rushing for testing. Makeshift signs, sort of still on neon paper, stuck on drugstore counters explained that supermarkets and drugstores were out of testing and couldn’t predict when they would be restocked. Following President Biden’s advice, I searched on google where I could find a test nearby. The answer: Rapid tests and PCR tests weren’t available at all CVS pharmacies around me in Johnson County. The shortage continued until the CVS schedule allowed me to search.
Testing, the most popular way to fight the virus, has been sold out, the result of unlimited demand.
However, this demand was predictable. While the Biden administration can claim it was blinded by omicron, experts have long predicted that the mutations would allow for a more contagious strain – and perhaps one that could break through the protections offered by vaccines.
From “The Daily” of the New York Times, correspondent Sherly Gay Stolberg explains how the Biden team and private industry allowed test kit production to sag when we should have been stockpiling. She points out how the 500 million tests recently funded by the Biden administration will be an answer that is both too small and too late. The nature and timing of the variant couldn’t be predicted exactly, Gay Stolberg said, but the basic outlines were clear.
With more robust tests, omicron would now be less catastrophic. For those who question their symptoms or have close contact, a negative test allows them to continue a normal life. Robust tests discourage those infected from leaving the home and spreading the virus further. Instead, those with symptoms and wanting to go about their daily lives have an excuse for doing so: there aren’t enough tests.
With more robust tests, omicron would now be less catastrophic. For those who question their symptoms or have close contact, a negative test allows them to continue a normal life. Robust tests discourage those infected from leaving the home and spreading the virus further.
The testing capacity has been too low for years. Experts have been calling for ‘cheap, mediocre’ and ubiquitous testing since 2020. Michel mina of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health appeared in the summer of 2020 at least of them different podcasts explaining his faith in daily tests that could alert Americans to their infection status. The reasoning was simple: people who know they are sick will spread the virus less often.
Why not offer free tests to all Americans? Consider the list of countries that offer free or subsidized tests: United Kingdom, Canada, France, Malaysia and Germany. According to The Guardian, the Singapore government sent 10 tests to each household between October and December, in addition to previous test shipments.
Instead, the Biden administration failed to do basic public health work to strengthen test in its first year. However, this kind of misstep was a hallmark of President Donald Trump’s response. So it’s a bit rich to hear political commentators provide exceptional scores (9 out of 5 on the crisis index?) National Review podcast. Failure to produce more tests is indeed a failure, but an isolated mistake, rather than part of a larger pattern, like Trump’s COVID denial and To grope.
Regardless of the political score, public health officials lack one of their main shields in the layered defense against the virus. At the start of the pandemic, we were armed with social distancing, masking, testing and surface disinfectant. Last year we added vaccination. With all these layers, our protections felt solid.
But now that variant is elusive, masks divide, social distancing seems odd, sanitization is toothless, and testing – our only trusted intervention – is elusive. The layered shield is frayed, if not ragged. From where, Kansas’ steep infection curve.
Under the bathroom sink, I put my family’s stash of tests away, waiting for a nose sniff or a plane ticket that calls me to use one. These are my family’s passports, giving us permission to return safely to the world. They are also a passport that every American deserves right now.
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