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Biden grapples with predicted Covid-19 test failure

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Biden grapples with predicted Covid-19 test failure

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For many Americans, this holiday season can be remembered as hours spent in long queues for tests or fruitless searches on drugstore shelves for antigen testing as the Omicron variant has taken over. the previous Delta wave. Already spotty tests have been exposed by the latest highly transmissible variant, and the United States is compared unfavorably to other developed countries where citizens have easy access to rapid and free tests.

Biden told governors in a virtual meeting on Monday that his administration should have done more to speed up the availability of rapid tests, ahead of his commitment this month for 500 million kits set to begin distribution in January, which will be too late to help this week’s vacation crunch.

“It’s not enough. It’s clearly not enough. If we had known, we would have gone stronger, faster if we could,” said the president, referring to the Omicron storm which quickly overtook existing testing capabilities. In an interview with ABC News just before Christmas, Biden denied that the lack of home tests represented a “failure.” But he added: “You could say we should have known that a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago.” The president said he wished he had thought of ordering 500 million home tests “two months ago”.
Such comments from the president, while blunt, are unlikely to improve public confidence in a White House that has sworn to shut down Covid-19 but at times appears to have underestimated the resistance of the virus and the scale of the challenge. The administration has achieved significant success in tackling the emergency despite the political reluctance of millions of Americans to take the president’s advice on which vaccines could save their lives. And on Monday, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their guidelines to make the current outbreak less disruptive to daily life, shortening the recommended times during which people must self-isolate when they have been. tested positive for Covid-19 from 10. days to five days if they don’t show symptoms – and if they wear a mask around others for at least five more days.

But not for the first time, as far as testing is concerned, the White House is forced to catch up following successive waves of a pandemic strangely capable of exploiting political divisions, sluggish bureaucracy and the impatience and public weariness with a fit will soon enter its third year.

Another political coup

The frustrating search for tests that many Americans endure may also have political ramifications for Biden as he seeks to bounce back from a grim few months that saw his approval ratings plummet. After all, he officially promises to address the testing shortage that has been exposed by the recent viral outbreak.

Running on competence, he placed the issue at the center of his 2020 campaign, which was partly anchored in highlighting the failures of ex-President Donald Trump in the first year of the pandemic. And in a speech to the nation last March, for example, the president said, “We continue to work to make home testing available.”

Over nine months later, he now admits that we haven’t done enough. Such comments make it difficult to accept arguments that the White House was caught off guard by the Omicron variant. Many experts have been saying for months that rapid tests need to be more accessible to the public. It’s no secret that new variants of the virus were inevitable. And a recent episode in which White House press secretary Jen Psaki scoffed at the idea of ​​sending all Americans a test – a goal Biden has now embraced – further muddied the waters. administration on this new phase of the pandemic.

The confusion has frustrated some public health professionals who say there are simply not enough kits to enable sick people, those exposed to someone infected with the virus, and people who wish to travel and attend. gatherings to get tested.

“It’s a real shame that we don’t have the amount of testing needed to be able to use it as the robust containment tool that we know it is when used effectively,” Dr Chris Pernell, medical officer of public health and colleague at the American College of Preventive Medicine, CNN’s Alisyn Camerota told CNN on Monday.

All of this may give credence to Republicans’ midterm election messages that Biden failed in his self-proclaimed number one task – defeating the virus – even though it was the GOP’s repeated attempts to politicize the fight that often pushed back the fight. pandemic response. The party’s continued dedication to Trump, who once urged public health officials to do less testing in order to find fewer cases of Covid-19, also casts doubt on its sincerity on this issue.

A dangerous turning point in the crisis

New testing controversy follows another critical twist in the pandemic. There were more than 200,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Sunday alone, and some experts expect that figure to soon reach half a million a day. While there are encouraging indications that this variant causes fewer hospitalizations than previous incarnations of Covid-19, even a tiny proportion of severe cases could overwhelm health systems given this level of infections. This is especially the case in areas that are still battling an outbreak of the delta variant of the virus and in parts of the country where vaccination rates remain relatively low.

The government’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr Anthony Fauci, admitted on CNN’s “New Day” on Monday that the testing situation could be better, despite constant warnings from experts for months that it is not. not sufficiently expansive.

Biden grapples with predicted Covid-19 test failure

 |  Today Headlines

“You know, testing has always been a problem,” Fauci told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, adding that the situation was exacerbated by hordes of Americans wanting to travel during the holidays as Omicron struck.

“It’s been a very, very good round of testing,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Obviously, with no excuse for it: we should have had more tests available. But I hope that now, as we move into the first two weeks of January, it will be much better. “

Biden has taken several recent steps to correct the shortfall. In early December, he ordered health insurers to reimburse Americans for the cost of home tests, which can go up to $ 20 for a kit or more. Then he promised Americans that he would make half a billion rapid tests available for free, although they won’t start rolling out until at least next month. While this influx can be critical as Omicron spreads, it cannot dampen the Christmas wave or the frustration of people who think they are infected now.

Washington caught off guard again

Home testing is not foolproof and is not a panacea for ending the pandemic. They are less important than vaccines and boosters in the fight against the Omicron wave of building. But they’re a useful tool that could empower Americans to make informed decisions about their own health and plans. They could confirm whether a sniff is indeed Covid-19 and help people protect their vulnerable loved ones or decide not to work to avoid infecting others.

The shortage of tests is all the more remarkable as the United States has dominated the world in rapid vaccine deployment, in a program that began under the Trump administration and was rolled out by the White House Biden team. .

Some companies that have sought to deploy rapid tests have complained of an extremely difficult regulatory process to the United States Food and Drug Administration. There have also been complaints about a flood of testing options, including some from overseas that overwhelmed the ability to assess them. This is a critical issue because rushing test approvals or allowing those with deficiencies to enter the system could damage the credibility of tests more broadly – and be a clear negative in the campaign for end the pandemic.

Yet this situation also appears to have some of the classic ingredients of Washington failure. A White House devoured by crises seems to have looked away a bit. It’s also possible that the increasingly urgent signals from the Oval Office and the suddenness of the Omicron wave failed to make their way through the bureaucratic chain. Events have overtaken the politicians and there is now a risk of a blame game. None of this is likely to bring a country closer to being delivered from the pandemic it dreams of in 2022.

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