Danger from Omicron

Jacob McIntyre, Staff Writer

COVID-19 continues to stall businesses and schools as cases increase and testing availability decreases. Wait time for reliable testing can be hours long as more people need a dwindling supply of tests. Overseas shipments of tests and other essential goods are slowing down due to worker shortages and limited shipping capacity. Critics say this could have all been avoided had governments acted more proactively to combat the virus.

Wait times for testing have increased dramatically due to an increased number of cases and exposers. For getting tests, urgent care centers are reliable, but it can take days to get an appointment and can be expensive. Public facilities require waiting outside for hours in the heat or cold, and sometimes run out of tests. At home tests are less reliable and are becoming more expensive as supply drops. Freshman Sophie Im supports more government intervention in this aspect saying, “[COVID] tests should remain free.” These issues are compounded by the fact the batch testing consists of testing groups of samples. With a higher positivity rate, this method becomes less effective and requires more tests to verify cases. According to CBS news, “The danger in health care is that for any life-saving product — it’s vulnerable to price gouging because most people would pay [an] arm and leg — anything — to save the life of a loved one,” epidemiologist and health economist Eric Feigl-Ding wrote in a series of tweets about the high cost of at-home tests, which is what makes the rapid increase demand so costly.

Shortages of tests have had a massive impact on both businesses and individuals. Businesses often require a negative test result to return to work, a requirement becoming difficult to fulfill as more people need tests. No testing means that even employees that do not have COVID-19 are prevented from returning to work if they catch a cold or other common virus. This is contributing to the worker shortage that is causing tests to be in such short supply. In addition to people being out of work, verifying when it is safe to visit others or go to school is becoming difficult as well. Getting tested is either time-consuming or costly at the individual level. Schools requiring negative test results after symptoms face similar issues as businesses. Being unable to test means that asymptomatic individuals are more likely to spread COVID-19, contributing further to the problem by putting more pressure on testing centers. Many still support this testing for larger events, even if time consuming. Sophomore Greyson Pike said, “People should get tested for big events and close contact.”

These compounding effects are most easily seen in the shipping industry. Shipments that normally take a day or two are taking five or more days due to worker shortages and the sheer number of tests being ordered. Shipping tests has become even more difficult. Not only do they have to deal with the worker shortages, but even under ideal conditions, they would have to be running at 300% efficiency to keep up with the mass ordering of tests. Lack of tests means that people are less likely to know if they have COVID-19 and are more likely to spread the virus. According to ABC News, “Over the past month, up to 30% of XChange Logistics’ workforce has been out with COVID-19.” This means that more people will have symptoms and need more tests, which continues to increase the demand.

Schools are suffering from this, reflected in record high cases in Washington. Issaquah has moved the 10-day quarantine period to five days to fight the loss of learning that extensive quarantine causes. Even so, a common cold can be indistinguishable from COVID-19 without testing, and can keep students at home for days. Many institutions other than schools were able to get tests, some workplaces and colleges. According to junior Benjaman Kang, “The schools are doing their best, [but] might be able to do better.” There are concerns that less necessary institutions, such as sports teams or colleges are taking the supply of tests from the public. While these claims have some merit, the supply of tests is very expandable; the supply of tests has increased from 25 million to 300 million since the summer, so it is more likely that the supply of tests for the public would still be limited regardless. Tests are also effective in these closer contact areas, even if overused relative to individual tests. Senior Samantha Chase says, “Club members should get tested as often as they meet.”

More tests are being ordered. According to VOA local governments can do little: “New Orleans Health Department Director Jennifer Avegno said there is little local governments can do to improve the situation until the supply of home tests is replenished.” The federal government has ordered 500 million rapid tests to be manufactured. While this is better than nothing, many complain about how late this action was taken. Estimates for the Omicron spike, based on other nations, predict the surge to be over in a few weeks. These tests will arrive well after the spike has peaked. Others say this movement was too reactive, and that an increase in manufacturing should have started as soon as news of high contagious variant came out.

There is good news for when those tests arrive even if they do arrive after the surge in cases; more cures and treatments for COVID-19 have been developed. Catching cases early on can now not only reduce the spread of COVID, but the impact on those who already have it. According to the Atlantic many antiviral treatments like Paxlovid “can prevent up to 88 percent of hospitalizations or deaths in people who start taking it within five days of symptom onset.” In addition to vaccines reducing COVID-19 spread and hospitalization, these new treatments and tests will make COVID-19 less deadly than ever. “Every day more supply arrives on the market. We are looking forward, and are encouraged by our actions,” a White house official told CNN.

Overall, while the current testing shortage is bad, this will improve once the spike of cases is over. More treatments and testing infrastructure are becoming available, so the next waves of variants will be less deadly. Right now, the best thing to do is to take normal COVID-19 precautions and to test only when necessary.