WASHINGTON – Biden administration steps up investment in Covid-19 testing to fight fourth wave of infections sweeping across states and regions with low vaccination rates as rates stagnate and some people resist a return to mask warrants, three administration officials said.
The administration said Thursday it was directing $ 1.6 billion worth of Covid testing to high-risk environments like prisons and shelters for the homeless and domestic violence, officials said. The administration last week announced a $ 398 million increase in funding for small rural hospitals to test and reduce infections.
Many Americans are eager to declare the pandemic over, rejecting masks and vaccinations in some states and regional pockets, but public health experts and federal officials say the country is entering a period much like the start of pandemic, when large-scale testing and tracing is essential.
Testing “is a key pillar of our response,” especially because some people delay getting vaccinated and many children are ineligible, said Carole Johnson, White House testing coordinator. “This is going to be really important, including when we talk to states about their rescue teams.”
Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., Chair of the Health, Education, Work and Pensions committee, said at a hearing Tuesday: “Vaccination rates are leveling off and fatigue is setting in.” .
Hospitalizations have increased by 35% and deaths by 26% over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even as tests decline. Public health labs reported 86,000 tests were administered in the last week of June, the most recent data available, compared to up to 205,000 per week during the last wave of Covid in April. In January, before vaccines became widely available, weekly tests reached 523,000, according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories. That doesn’t include commercial and clinical labs, and Johnson said testing is increasing in peak conditions.
Scott Becker, chief executive of the labs group, said: “This is a war on land. As the number of cases and hospitalizations increases, you would expect to see more tests.” But “we’ve seen a huge drop in diagnostic testing across the country.”
The Biden administration is also using billions of dollars approved by Congress to establish regional centers to run testing programs in schools and homeless shelters, and it has sent $ 1.7 billion to states to help. to sequence the evolving virus.
Much of the $ 12 billion will go towards the safe reopening of schools in the fall. The administration is also pushing for cheaper home tests that parents can use to distinguish flu, Covid and other respiratory illnesses which public health officials say could be rampant after a year of learning to distance.
Some lawmakers want to be more aggressive, especially as the more contagious delta variant spreads and young children remain ineligible for vaccination. Pilot programs in several schools across the country in the spring have proven expensive and in some cases difficult to test staff members and children at school.
However, if the government enacted uniform standards for testing schoolchildren and contracted directly with private companies for low-cost tests that could be done regularly at home, it could be very effective, said Representative Kim Schrier, D-Wash. ., a pediatrician who has been warning for months about the need for a robust testing infrastructure.
“They would at least have the mass purchasing power to say this is what we want, a billion tests at $ 1 each, and the private company knows it will get paid,” Schrier said.
Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said: “Everyone in public health recognizes that we are heading to a place where we were at the start of the pandemic, where you need adequate testing. We’re going to test again, and in many more numbers. “