Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was spotted by scientists in southern Africa last week and is now known to be present in over 30 countries. It has mutations that scientists say could allow it to spread faster and cause more breakthrough infections in vaccinated or previously infected people, although none of the characteristics have yet been confirmed.
The experts welcomed Mr. Biden’s new focus on testing. Dr. Michael Mina, a former Harvard University epidemiologist who has been a strong advocate of wider use of testing, said it can be used both as a medical device to determine if someone is sick and as a public health tool to determine if a person is contagious and is a danger to others.
Coronavirus pandemic: what you need to know
“Testing is one of the cornerstones of public health, especially in a pandemic,” said Dr Mina, who is currently chief scientist at eMed, a company that conducts tests at home. “But for reasons unknown, we still viewed it primarily as a medical device.”
According to the president’s plan, from the beginning of next year, 150 million Americans will be reimbursed for home tests through private insurance. To provide access to those without insurance or Medicaid, the administration intends to distribute an additional 25 million tests to community health centers and rural clinics, which tend to treat low-income patients.
Experts envision a world in which people can test themselves as soon as they develop symptoms and then, if they test positive, go into isolation and seek treatment with new antiviral drugs. Early testing is important because antiviral drugs work best immediately after symptoms appear. The White House says it has pre-ordered 13 million courses of antiviral treatment. Two companies, Merck and Pfizer, are requesting emergency marketing authorization for their antiviral pills.
In the United States, home tests were relatively difficult due to a lack of supplies. Dr. del Rio of Emory University said that instead of forcing people to go through the cumbersome process of seeking insurance reimbursement for tests, “we should just subsidize them and make it incredibly cheap.”
He noted that rapid tests are free in the UK, while in Germany they cost consumers about $ 1 apiece. In the US, tests are usually sold in packs of two, priced between $ 14 and $ 34.