Washington (Associated Press)-Only five weeks ago, Los Angeles County was conducting more than 350,000 coronavirus tests per week, including at the large through train location at Dodger Stadium, as health workers raced to control the worst COVID-19 in the United States Hot spot
Now, county officials say the test has almost collapsed. More than 180 government-supported sites operate at only one-third of their capacity.
“It is shocking that we have increased from 100 miles per hour to about 25 miles,” said Dr. Clemens Hong, the head of the county̵
After a year of hard work to improve the level of testing, communities across the country saw a sharp drop in demand, closed testing sites, and even tried to return supplies.
The decline in screening occurred at an important moment in the outbreak: experts are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 is fading after killing more than 500,000 people in the United States, but fear that new variants may extend the epidemic.
Hong said: “Everyone wants to be able to get a wide range of vaccinations quickly, but I think we have not reached the point where we can let go of our vigilance.” “We just don’t have enough people to rule out the opportunity for another surge.”
The US exams reached their peak on January 15, when the country conducted an average of more than 2 million exams per day. Since then, the average number of daily tests has dropped by more than 28%. This decline reflects the decline in all major viral measures since January, including new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Officials say those encouraging trends, coupled with harsh winter weather, the end of the holiday travel season, pandemic fatigue, and increasing attention to vaccinations, have weakened interest in testing.
Dr. Richard Pescatore of the Delaware Department of Health said: “Combine all these factors together and you will see a downward trend. Since the peak in January, the department’s daily routine Testing has dropped by more than 40%.” “People just don’t go to test sites.”
But testing is still important for tracking and controlling outbreaks.
Los Angeles County is opening more testing options near public transportation, schools and offices to make it more convenient. Officials in Santa Clara County urged residents to “continue to be tested regularly,” focusing on new mobile test buses and pop-up stations.
President Joe Biden promised to transform the U.S. testing system by investing billions of dollars in supplies and government coordination. But with the rapid decline in demand, the country may soon have a large amount of unused supply. According to the predictions of Arizona State University researchers, by June, the United States will be able to conduct nearly 1 billion tests per month. This is more than 25 times the current rate that the country currently reports about 40 million tests per month.
More than 150 million doses of new vaccines will be delivered by the end of March. As local governments transfer personnel and resources to vaccinations, the scope of testing may further decline.
Dr. Jeffrey Engel of the National and Regional Council of Epidemiologists said: “You have to fight here.” “Everyone will agree that if you have a public health nurse, you will use that person for Vaccination, not testing.”
Some experts said the country must double the testing to avoid outbreaks caused by variants of the coronavirus that are circulating in the UK, South Africa and elsewhere.
Dr. Jonathan Quick of the Rockefeller Foundation said: “We need to use testing to continue the downward trend.” “We need to install it here to capture the surge in various variants.”
Last week, as more students returned to classrooms, Minnesota began urging families to take the test every two weeks before the end of the school year.
“In order to protect this progress, we need to use all available tools,” said Dan Hoff, assistant to the state health commissioner.
However, some of the most prestigious test proponents are not worried about the decline in screening. From a public health point of view, testing helps to quickly find infected people, trace their contacts and isolate them to prevent spread, which is effective. In most parts of the United States, this has never happened.
During the holidays, many Americans still have to wait a few days to receive the test results, which makes them basically useless. Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard University said this led to test fatigue and decreased interest.
Mina said: “It doesn’t give you a lot of satisfying instant feedback.” “So people’s willingness or interest in testing begins to decline.”
Despite this, US test manufacturers continue to increase production, and it is expected that another 110 million home-based rapid tests will be put on the market next month.
Government officials have long believed that this growing library of cheap 15-minute tests will be used to regularly screen millions of students and teachers during face-to-face classroom recovery. However, the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not emphasize testing, describing it as an “additional layer” of protection rather than basic measures such as cover-up and social distancing.
Even in the absence of strong federal government support, education leaders have stated that the test plan is very important to mobilize the public confidence required to reopen schools, including when cases are expected to increase again in the fall.
“Schools have reason to ask themselves,’Is the juice worth the large-scale testing effort?'” said Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a non-profit organization that provides consulting services to regions in more than 25 states. . “Our message to the school system we work with is:’Yes, you need a comprehensive test because you will need it.'”
Associated Press writer Brian Merley in Los Angeles and Nick Foster, an Associated Press data reporter in New York, contributed to this report.
Follow Matthew Perrone on Twitter: @AP_FDAwriter
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