With fewer cases and less demand, many Covid-19 testing sites are closing – Boston News, Weather, Sports
(CNN) – As Covid-19 numbers hit pandemic lows across the United States, many Covid-19 testing sites have begun closing.
Some test sites have been open for almost two years, many see hundreds or even thousands of people a day. Now home testing is more readily available and the demand for testing sites is decreasing.
Sarah Henderson, director of the public health services division of the Haywood County Health and Human Services Agency in North Carolina, said most states will soon see shutdowns, if they don’t have it. not already done.
“We were seeing over 100 patients at our testing site in the first few days [of January], which doesn’t seem like a lot, but our community is very small,” Henderson said. “Over the past two weeks, we have seen single digits every day. I certainly won’t speak for other counties, but I think we’re probably headed in that direction where if they don’t close, they reduce hours and staff.
Henderson cited the difficulty of keeping sites staffed as a big part of the decision. Federal funding for Covid-19 has run out, leaving many states without money to run their testing sites. Many are operated by a third party, such as Quest Diagnostics or Nomi Health. They provide personnel and the means to carry out free tests on site.
However, as federal money dries up, these sites become very expensive for the states responsible for them.
Palm Beach County, Florida, Mayor Robert Weinroth spoke about the closures in his county on Twitter in mid-March, announcing that with federal funding “running out,” all non-commercial facilities will close.
States across the United States, including Texas, Delaware, Washington and Massachusetts, are also closing sites. In January, Delaware Health and Human Services announced on Twitter that all testing at state service centers was being canceled and several testing sites were closed. Texas closed its Pflugerville site in March after being open for less than two months.
Henderson believes home testing is also playing a role in shutdowns across the country. As home testing becomes more popular and the government offers hundreds of millions of free tests through the US Postal Service, the number of people using onsite testing has declined.
“We are also in a different place where many employers and your school systems that initially required testing from a provider are now accepting these home tests, which is good for everyone involved as it does not put unnecessary pressure on neither does the health care system,” Henderson said.
She says Americans should be “cautiously optimistic” about the future as this is not the first time the country has tried to get ahead of the pandemic. Testing sites began closing in the spring of 2021 when numbers started to drop. However, many have been forced to reopen as the number of cases has increased dramatically due to the Delta variant.
“In public health, we are excited to be back to some kind of normal, whatever the new normal is. But we have observed these numbers. We also realize that while the test positivity rate is down, we’re also thinking about how many people are actually testing,” Henderson said. “So we’re also concerned that there’s a higher positivity rate that we just can’t put our finger on.”
The importance of testing
But will the closure of the test sites have worrying consequences? The message from public health experts is clear: while the end of the pandemic appears to be drawing near, victory is not guaranteed.
Mara Aspinall is the Managing Director of the Health Catalysts Group, which provides data and analytics to healthcare organizations to improve the quality of patient care. She believes education is the key to preventing another dire situation, like when the Omicron variant caused a huge spike in hospitalizations.
“We need to educate because some states are closing sites because no one is showing up for testing. So it’s not the site shutting down that’s the problem,” Aspinall said. “It’s the fact that we need to educate people about the importance of testing. Testing is just one aspect of the larger problem, which encourages testing for essential workers, for people working and interacting with the vulnerable, the elderly and the unvaccinated.
Testing is more important than ever. Although the Omicron coronavirus variant is 59% less likely to cause hospitalizations than the previous Delta variant, its BA.2 subvariant accounts for more than 72% of cases in the United States. With 13 states reporting cases on the rise, many public health officials are worried about what’s on the horizon.
It is almost impossible to get an accurate overview of the situation without a thorough testing program.
“I think this will leave us repeating the mistakes we made so little time ago, which was underestimating the virus,” Aspinall said. “Yes, we all desperately want this to end, but prematurely… saying it’s over and stopping funding for tests and treatments is destined to be a problem. I think you have to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
A Health Catalysts Group newsletter that tracks Covid testing says it’s only been 100 days since every state recorded its first case of Omicron. “Feels like we’ve been to hell and back,” the bulletin read.
The ever-changing nature of the virus is why many sites that are currently closing are ready to reopen if necessary.
“The most difficult thing is to get [a testing site] started,” Henderson said. “You know, it’s about finding a vendor that can meet the needs of our community, it’s about finding the employees that you know that can staff that test site. So the building of that initial relationship is sort of done and done now. So yes, I think it would be very easy for us to reopen our site if we needed to.
Where to get tested
Even though some sites are closing, the tests are still widely available.
Commercial testing locations are still, for the most part, open. Places including CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens offer free Covid tests. Health centers also offer testing, and you can find these locations and more on the US Department of Health and Human Services website.
Every household in the United States can also get two free sets of four test kits through the federal government at covid.gov. These are rapid antigen tests that provide results in 30 minutes.
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