COVID-19 testing declines as health systems focus on vaccinating

The number of daily COVID-19 tests administered nationwide has declined 35 percent since mid-January, in part because healthcare officials and systems are focusing more on vaccination efforts, reports The New York Times.

The decline in testing rates concerns some experts who say testing is crucial for identifying new cases and slowing the virus's spread, but the trend may also reflect an overall improvement the U.S. is seeing in terms of cases and vaccinations, reports The Texas Tribune.

COVID-19 testing is still a "major pillar of the president's strategy," Carole Johnson, the White House's testing coordinator, told the Times March 25. The recently passed COVID-19 relief law includes $50 billion for expanded testing, and the Biden administration is working with local officials to open some regional coordinating centers, reports the Times.

One issue is the lower accuracy rate rapid antigen tests have compared to PCR tests, which aren't available for mass home testing. The FDA has authorized emergency approval for two at-home antigen tests, but they aren't yet widely available. 

Public messaging has largely shifted from encouraging people to get tested to encouraging people to get vaccinated, said James McDeavitt, MD, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Houston-based Baylor College of Medicine, according to the Tribune.

Although Texas COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining, there are still significant levels of disease in the community, Dr. McDeavitt said, and with new variants spreading, testing remains crucial. 

 

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