WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — The federal government is making available up to four rapid antigen at-home COVID-19 tests for every U.S. household at no cost.
Households can get access to the tests through the mail, at a local pharmacy, or at one of at least 20,000 free testing sites, according to COVIDtests.gov. The Biden Administration has ordered private insurers and group health plans to cover up to 32 rapid test each month for a family of four. Government insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are exempt from the order.
President Biden has promised to make up to one billion of the tests available for distribution. Congress has set aside $53 billion for COVID-19 testing of which $29 billion is unspent.
Supply chain concerns
How successful the rollout will be and what impact it will have on stopping the coronavirus is not exactly clear.
“We have insurance mandates and the U.S. mail; what could go wrong?” asked Doug Badger, a senior fellow at the Galen Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
One concern is what impact the government’s stockpiling of the tests will have on the supply chain.
“If the government plans to mail out one billion tests, what does that do to the supply at your local Walgreens? Already, the tests are in short supply,” said Badger.
“I don’t think this parallel distribution chain is going to be the best way to do it.”
Additionally, some 200 million people receive health insurance through private plans, meaning they could request up to 6.4 billion tests per month.
“Obviously, if everyone were to use this benefit, you would never be able to get any of these tests,” Badger remarked.
Private insurance enrollees will buy the test and seek reimbursement from their insurers. Some insurers may have arrangements with certain drugstores. In any case, reimbursements will be limited to $12 a test so if a shortage occurs, as with any product in short supply, tests could cost enrollees far more money.
More testing, more positive results
As more Americans access free or low-cost tests, more people test positive for COVID-19. Cases started soaring about the second week in December. Testing positive has a domino effect on activity because individuals who test positive inform others, who then feel compelled, symptoms or not, to get tested or stay home.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers broad guidance regarding who should get tested.
On its website, the CDC recommends testing for people who have symptoms of COVID-19, people who have come into “close contact with someone with COVID-19,” immediate testing for individuals not fully vaccinated who have been in “close contact,” and people not fully vaccinated who have been asked or referred to get testing by a school, workplace, or health care provider.
The website encourages people who “are sick with COVID-19” or “think [they] might have COVID-19,” to stay home, separate from others, and tell all close contacts of a possible infection.
The CDC says symptoms of COVID-19 can include any of the following: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea.
Many of these symptoms resemble the common cold and are not uncommon during the winter months when people are mostly indoors and in close contact with others. The CDC admits it is still trying to learn more about the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
“More data are needed to know if Omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants,” states the agency’s website. It recommends vaccines, masks, and testing.
Widespread testing ‘makes no sense’
Testing broad swaths of the general public for a wide variety of common symptoms is begging for trouble, says Jeffrey Singer, M.D., a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
“It makes no sense to test everyone, symptomatic or otherwise, high-risk or otherwise, considering the large percentage of the population that at this point has a fair amount of immunity,” said Singer.
“We will wind up unnecessarily shuttering much of society,” said Singer. “Test the symptomatic and test those who work with vulnerable people, such as nursing home workers, hospital workers, and caregivers. We need focused testing along with focused protection if we ever hope to live in a world with endemic COVID.”
Test until positive
Massive public testing can create all kinds of data distortions, says Erwin Haas, M.D., an infectious disease expert and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. “[The statistician Thomas] Bayes would have scoffed,” said Haas.
Haas says several members of his family had symptoms resembling the common cold. The family had PCR tests; three of four were negative. “My question about which tests are truly negative, and which are positive, has been ignored,” said Haas.
The issue then becomes who should be retested, says Haas.“The point of testing seems to be to continue testing until the individual gets a positive, not to manage the disease,” said Haas. “It’s more of a fashion statement.”
As a virus mutates, it often becomes more easily transmitted, but milder in its effects, says Haas.
“The Omicron variant does not seem to be that serious and, if very contagious, a classical off-ramp for epidemic infections,” he remarked.
What government should do
Badger says he has been a big fan of the rapid tests, but they might have been a better idea early in the pandemic when more virulent strains of the virus were spreading, and the government’s response was to restrict activity. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration delayed approval of the tests.
Instead, both the Trump and Biden administrations issued executive orders to stop the virus such as putting a moratorium on housing evictions and mandating vaccines, orders that were eventually rejected by the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Best would be for the government to provide information to people so they can make responsible decisions about their health, says Badger.
“Nobody is going stop the virus. The government does not command biology any more than King Canute couldn’t command the tides,” said Badger.
“Israel is the most vaccinated country in the world, imposed a number of restrictions on its citizens, and is now facing an enormous outbreak of Omicron,” he continued,
“We’ve really distorted the role of government and private citizens, not just with liberty but with respect to personal responsibility.That is what we mean when we say democracy is in trouble.”
“At the point government loses trust in the ability of its citizenry to make good judgments in their personal lives, that is the point you transition from democracy to tyranny. Because if we can’t take care of ourselves, if the government has to make decisions for us, then the government is going to look very different from the one described in our Constitution.”
AnneMarie Schieber ([email protected]) is a contributor to LifeSiteNews and the managing editor of Health Care News. A version of this article appeared January 5, 2022 on Heartland Daily News.com. Reprinted with permission.