President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator said on Wednesday that Americans struggling to get tested for the coronavirus next week could be reimbursed for the cost of rapid at-home testing from their insurers, but made no specific promises about when free tests would be conducted. available.
The comments from Jeff Zients, who is leading the White House response to the pandemic, come two weeks after Mr. Biden said his administration would buy half a billion rapid tests to distribute to the public for free, and that insurance companies would start offering refunding people for tests they bought. independent. Mr Biden said at the time that the free tests would be available “in the coming weeks”.
With the Omicron strain of the coronavirus causing a surge in cases across the country, the demand for tests of all kinds has far outstripped supply. In some areas, people wait in long lines to undergo the highly sensitive polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests performed in medical clinics. Rapid home tests are flying off pharmacy shelves.
“We know this remains frustrating for people who are being tested in many parts of the country,” Zients said on Wednesday. “So we’re working to do everything we can.”
The administration’s new “test-to-stay” directive for schools, which allows students exposed to the virus to stay in the classroom if they test negative, is one of the factors driving demand for the rapid tests .
Last week, when Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, omitted a test requirement from new isolation guidelines, she was greeted with a chorus of criticism from public health experts who said a negative test should be required before an infected person ends a five-day isolation period. .
On Tuesday, the CDC changed the latest guidelines — not to say that testing was mandatory, but to say that people who wanted to end their isolation periods after five days and have access to tests could choose to take them. If the test results are positive, they will have to stay at home for another five days, the guidance says; if they are negative and their symptoms disappear, they are allowed to go outside, but must continue to wear masks in public for another five days.
dr. Walensky addressed reporters on Wednesday, saying she has omitted a testing requirement from the guidelines because rapid tests are not authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to determine if someone is contagious to others; they are only authorized to detect infections and are intended to be used serially, as is the case in schools.
But after the guidelines were released, she said, “it became very clear that people were interested in using the rapid tests,” and since that was the case, she wanted to at least provide “guidance on how they should be used.” “.
The recommendation for the general public is different from that for health professionals, who must test negative before returning to work. dr. Walensky said the CDC has always been more conservative in its recommendations to health professionals because they care for vulnerable people, including those with weak immune systems.
The coronavirus pandemic: important things to know
The global rise. In early 2022, the virus is spreading faster than ever, but the closing days of 2021 brought encouraging news that the Omicron variant causes less severe disease than previous waves. Governments are therefore focusing more on expanding vaccination than on limiting its spread.
Matching supply-demand testing has been a challenge for both the Trump and Biden administrations. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a shortage of tests and the components that make up test kits. By the end of 2020, manufacturers had expanded production. But once the vaccines arrived, the Biden administration put less emphasis on testing. Demand collapsed and manufacturers withdrew.
Now the manufacturers are running at full speed again. Mr. Zients said manufacturers will begin shipping rapid test kits to the federal government next week, and the government would set up a “free and simple system, including a website” where Americans can order them.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that new federal testing sites would open this week in the District of Columbia and Philadelphia, followed shortly after by Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Delaware, Texas and Washington state. She noted that mobile testing sites were already open in New York City and New Jersey.
Zolan Kanno Youngs reporting contributed.