The COVID testing infrastructure in the U.S. is drawing heavy scrutiny once again amid the surge in cases resulting from the Omicron variant.

“We just got an email that some PCRs are going to take up to 5-7 days for a turnaround,” Dr. Calvin Sun, a New York-based emergency medicine physician, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “That’s clinically useless to me because I have to expect that you’re going to somehow quarantine yourself right after that PCR test, walk through that full waiting room, walk outside, go into the subway, go home, and then quarantine for 5-7 days so that you finally get a phone call of what your status was 5-7 days ago.”

Both confirmed cases and tests are spiking in New York City while results lag given that many labs are suddenly inundated with COVID tests.

“What about the person you had dinner with two days prior to that phone call for your PCR results?” Sun continued. “It’s not useful if it’s taking that long. You cannot wait 5-7 days, especially in a city like New York. Rapid antigen tests are finding out there’s a correlation with contagiousness which gives you your status at that moment, so it’s actually a more useful test considering the circumstances to test right before that gathering that you want to do with your family this holiday season.”

The original sin of the pandemic has been testing’

Earlier this week, President Biden announced that his administration would be providing 500 million free at-home tests for Americans across the country.

And while this was a relief for some, many health officials saw this move as too little, too late, especially since the country is entering its third year of the pandemic.

“Really just a horrible situation,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said on Yahoo Finance Live. “It is another failure that we’ve seen. And it’s, to me, inexcusable because it’s not something that was not forecasted. We knew this was going to be a need especially as people want to get back to their lives and they see testing as a way to do it safely because they can know their status and take protective actions based on whether they’re positive or negative.”

Typically, PCR tests are seen as more reliable than rapid antigen tests. But the turnaround time is longer (with the exception of hard-to-find rapid PCR tests). The average wait time for PCR tests is roughly 48 hours, though it can be longer depending on demand, whereas a rapid antigen test can deliver results within 15 minutes.

“It’s really inexcusable that this is happening now this far in the pandemic in the United States when all of us have been clamoring for better access to testing from the very beginning,” Adalja said. “I’ve always said that the original sin of the pandemic has been testing, and it continues to be a sin that the government commits.”

Furthermore, many experiencing symptoms are finding it hard to even access COVID tests without having to wait in lines for hours.

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