Plunging COVID-19 test demand may leave US with supply glut

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Just five weeks ago, Los Angeles County ruled more more than 350,000 weekly coronavirus tests, including during a massive drive-thru site at Dodger Stadium, as health workers rush to contain the worst COVID-19 hotspot in the United States

Now county officials say the tests have almost collapsed. More of 180 government funded sites are operating at only a third of their capacity.

“It’s shocking how fast we’ve gone from 100 mph to around 25,” said Dr Clemens Hong, who heads the county testing operation.

After a year of struggle to boost testing, communities across the country see demand plummet, halting testing sites or even trying to return supplies.

Drop in screening comes at key moment in outbreak: Experts cautiously optimistic COVID-19 recedes after killing more more than 500,000 people in the United States but fearing that the emerging variants could prolong the epidemic.

“Everyone’s hoping for quick and widespread immunizations, but I don’t think we’re at a point where we can let our guard down just yet,” Hong said. “We just don’t have enough immune people to rule out another outbreak.”

Testing in the United States peaked on January 15, as the country averaged more over 2 million tests per day. Since then, the average number of daily tests has dropped more more than 28%. The drop reflects the drop in all major viral measurements since January, including new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Officials say these encouraging trends, coupled with harsh winter conditions, the end of the holiday season, pandemic fatigue and a growing focus on vaccinations are undermining the interest in testing.

“When you combine all of these things together, you see this decrease,” said Dr. Richard Pescatore of the Delaware Department of Health, where daily testing has declined. more more than 40% since the January peak. “People are just not going to take tests sites. “

But testing remains important to monitor and contain the epidemic.

LA County opens more test options near public transport, schools and offices to achieve this more convenient. And Santa Clara County officials are urging residents to “continue to get tested regularly,” highlighting the new mobile test buses and pop-ups. sites.

President Joe Biden has vowed to overhaul the country’s testing system by investing billions more in procurement and government coordination. But with rapidly declining demand, the country may soon have a glut of unused supplies. The United States will be able to perform nearly a billion monthly tests by June, according to projections by researchers at Arizona State University. It is more more than 25 times the country’s current rate of around 40 million tests reported per month.

With more As 150 million new doses of vaccine are due to be delivered by the end of March, testing is expected to decline further as local governments shift staff and resources to vaccines.

“You have to choose your battles here,” said Dr Jeffrey Engel of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. “Everyone would agree that if you have a public health nurse you are going to use that person for immunization, not testing.

Some experts say the country needs to double its testing to avoid the outbreaks of coronavirus variants that have taken hold in the UK, South Africa and elsewhere.

“We need to use the tests to continue the downward trend,” said Dr Jonathan Quick of the Rockefeller Foundation, who advised Biden officials. “We have to have it there to capture the surges from the variants.”

Last week, Minnesota began urging families to get tested every two weeks until the end of …

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