It seems that the problems in testing right now are very localized, but given that cases are rising, and will continue to rise with Omicron, it’s just going to get worse. Even areas that are doing well right now will feel the strain.
One of the biggest issues throughout the pandemic with the PCR tests [typically administered at drugstores and health centers] has been the lagging time to get results. Sometimes it can take something like 72 hours or more, and at that point it’s not useful as a tool for limiting case numbers or if you need to have proof of a negative test to get on a flight, you’re out of luck.
With the self-administered rapid tests, the problem has been availability. The rapid tests can be a wonderful tool for people to make decisions about how to spend their days, who they visit, and distinguishing COVID from a common cold or other illness. But unfortunately in the US, we’ve let the market influence availability. When we had some relief before the Delta variant hit, there wasn’t much demand for tests and manufacturing slowed down accordingly. But then Delta came and we weren’t ready. It seems that the same happened with Omicron. But the measures announced by President Biden to ramp up our responses to COVID-19—including testing, support for hospitals, more vaccinators—are very welcome and should make a difference. The president didn’t mention improving air quality, but that is another very important mitigation measure—people should know that they can do more to purify the air in their homes, businesses, and schools to reduce risks.
In the US, a lot of the effort and push has focused primarily on vaccinations, which is critical, but as we can see, it’s not going to be enough.