Americans seek virus testing and insurance of safe holiday gatherings

It took Matthew Phillips four hours to get a coronavirus test.

Mr Phillips, a 34-year-old Seattle resident, spent Wednesday morning refreshing dozens of websites on his laptop until he could find a date. And once he got to a test site, he spent another hour and a half in line before it was his turn.

He now hopes to test negative in time for his flight to Houston on Thursday to see his loved ones over Christmas.

“It sounds like deja vu,” Phillips said. “It’s like we’re just living in this recurring nightmare.”

Indeed, a day after President Biden announced a resurgence of interest in testing as a way to fight the coronavirus, it was clear that the testing landscape reflected many divisions and frustrations – practical, political and otherwise – of the nation’s overall response to the nearly two-year pandemic.

Across the country, people are preparing for out-of-state trips and indoor gatherings with multiple generations of the same family. Many spend hours in line just to be turned back because the site runs out of tests. Some people without insurance avoid a test due to the high price or worry that a positive result could lead to a sick leave. And others, often in areas where the infection is rife, minimize the severity of the virus and avoid testing altogether.

“The fact that they’re hard to find suggests that there is a segment of people who really trust these tests,” said Preeti Malani, professor and director of health at the University of Michigan. “But are the people who need to be tested the most being tested? “

With the offer and promotion of the tests left out in the midst of the government’s vaccination campaign, she said, the tests remain “far from where they need to be.”

An upcoming study in South Carolina suggests that some of the same groups that have been slow to adopt the vaccination are also less likely to get tested. The survey of 15,000 people found that African American and Hispanic residents were less likely to get tested because of problems accessing tests, mistrust of the medical system, or fear of being tested. be tested. miss their job and their salary if they were positive.

People who identified as conservative were also less likely to request testing, due to a lack of concern about the virus, she said.

“How can we reach them? Said Melissa Nolan, professor of epidemiology at the University of South Carolina and one of the study’s authors. “And we can’t just assume that they don’t believe in testing or don’t want to be tested.”

In Nashville, the Metro Public Health Department is seeing long lines at its testing sites – but health officials say the numbers could be higher.

“We want everyone who comes out and interacts with people to test themselves regularly,” said Leslie Waller, the department’s epidemiologist. “We know that is not happening right now.”

Ms Waller noted that the lack of work, finding daycare and other disruptions in daily life make it difficult for people to come.

And if some were frustrated with the testing process, others were grateful.

At a test site run by the city of Nashville, Carol Cowart stood in line with her granddaughter, listening to Taylor Swift songs together, for about an hour.

“They go really fast,” Ms. Cowart said. “Everyone seems to know what they’re doing.

Ms Cowart had been exposed after having lunch with a friend on Saturday. She felt good but wanted to play it safe. “If I’m positive I’ll have to eat Christmas dinner in my room,” she said.

It was, she said, “quite frustrating just because people don’t get vaccinated.”

“I mean,” she continued, “what’s in it for getting the vaccine? “

Brian Orak, 36, a math and computer teacher in New Jersey, said he had no interest in taking a test unless he started showing symptoms.

“I would not take a test because a positive test would have a profoundly negative effect on my ability to teach and go to school,” said Orak, who is vaccinated and attends postgraduate classes at night. . “I might miss exams, a presentation, and my students would have an inferior learning experience. “

Brandon Walker, 32, of Baltimore, said he regretted having had to take time off work to get tested.

He went to three test sites on Wednesday to try to find a test. The first pushed him away, and the second was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t even find a parking space. Contacted by phone on Wednesday afternoon, he had been waiting for three and a half hours and had still not been called.

“I ran around Baltimore a lot, trying to find a place to get tested,” he said. “I used all of my resources to try and beat the wave, but it’s not working because everyone is trying to get it today.”

Livingston County, Mich., Health officials say access to testing has not been a challenge there. From providing testing directly to families with children in school, to the affordability of home testing for most high-income county residents, “testing is within reach.” said Lindsay Gestro, emergency preparedness coordinator for the county.

But public health officials continue to feel frustrated with the low number of tests, she said. The county’s high test positivity rate of 16% suggests the cases are significantly underestimated.

“I don’t mean to say they’re done – they’re sort of done dealing with Covid,” said Ms Gestro, who noted that the largely conservative county has never instituted Covid requirements beyond that. those imposed by the State. Many residents believe the Omicron is less severe than previous variants, with some early reports from other countries suggesting it produces milder cases.

More people have been tested ahead of travel and holiday gatherings, Ms Gestro said, but she said reluctance to request testing continued to contribute to the rapid spread of Covid in the county.

The effectiveness of testing in stopping the spread of the coronavirus has also been limited, she said, experiencing confusion over quarantine protocols while awaiting test results or when to take a test after exposure. , or before potentially exposing other people.

And for those who do decide to get tested, like Ashley Harper from Queens, they still have to wait hours.

On Monday afternoon, a site ran out of tests before Ms Harper and others online could get one. When she returned the next day at 8 a.m., the queue was already circling the block.

After hours of waiting in front of a mobile test van on Wednesday, she finally got her test.

“It’s frustrating that I have to wait three hours to get tested,” she said. “It’s frustrating that there aren’t more test sites. “

Still, experts stress that a negative outcome is not where the process ends.

“Tests can’t see what happens in the future” said Gigi Gronvall, professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Some people see it as a jail-free release card when in fact it’s just a moment in time.”

Americans Hunt for Virus Tests and Assurance of Safe Holiday Gatherings first appeared in the New York Times.

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