Discover more from Thinking about...
The Delta Mist
Why are we choosing ignorance about our pandemic?
In spring 2020, as the covid pandemic began, I was mystified that we seemed to be speaking so little about testing. I left the United States that July, and returned this August, a few weeks ago. There is much more testing now than there was then. But it is stunning to me that tests are so rare and expensive, and just that there is such rigmarole generally about getting tested. Testing should just be a normal part of everyday life.
Vaccinations are important. Masks are important. But just as important is knowledge. To be sure, you can find records of American case numbers every day. These numbers reveal trends, but understate cases. Case numbers depend upon testing numbers, and we do not test very much. People only seem to test when there are symptoms, but much (surely most!) transmission of covid is asymptomatic. Only be making tests for asymptomatic people free and easy will they happen.
In school last year in Vienna, my kids were tested three times a week. They could go out to restaurants, but only if they remembered to bring the cute little sticker book with their negative test result. Is there anywhere in America now where anything like that is true? For those of us who have school-age kids and who believe in vaccinations, this is an anxious time. We are putting our children, who are not vaccinated, at risk. It seems obvious that they should be tested. After more than a year and a half of a pandemic, in a country with extraordinary wealth, it is baffling that free testing is not available not just for kids but for everyone.
In Austria last year, before I was vaccinated, I tested three times a week. It was very comforting to have these regular indications, and not just for myself. I felt better knowing that I was less likely to be spreading a disease to other people. It just seemed like common sense, respect, or simple good manners. Even after I was vaccinated, I tested myself at home about once a week. This was easy, since antigen tests were free of charge and widely available. In Vienna, the pharmacist would remind me to take home my free testing kits when I visited for another reason.
Back in America, one of the first things I wanted to do was to make sure that my children saw relatives. It seemed obvious to me that everyone should self-test before any such gathering. Multiple people were coming from multiple states, which made the logic of testing seem overwhelming. It was then that I realized that this was not the way that Americans thought. Relatives were happy to test, since we asked them to, but would not have done so otherwise. With a day's notice, most of them were unable to find a way to get tested. In the end I found some tests, and everyone went through what seemed to them like the exotic ritual of self-testing. The tests cost about $25 each. To me, used to having them for free, that seemed like profiteering.
It is perverse that we do not have free antigen tests available for everyone at all times.
I realize that free tests would not solve all of our problems. To be sure, not everyone would use them. But many, many millions of people would. People of good will should be enabled to do the right thing. Those of us who want to be safe and who want to protect others should be able to do so without cost and hassle. Yes, antigen tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests. Nevertheless, every test that is administered gives us some greater chance of catching an infection before it spreads to others. I know from experience in Vienna that home antigen tests do catch infections, and have stopped people from taking part in gatherings where infections likely would have spread.
In America these past few weeks, I have this strange sensation that we are walking through a Delta mist. We don't really know how many infections we have as a country, since we do not perform enough tests. Without free and accessible tests, we do not have easy access to one of the basic tools of prevention, which is knowledge. I like knowing. Knowing enables caring. Without free and accessible tests, we cannot take care of ourselves and of our families and friends. The mist should be cleared. Home tests should be free and available to everyone.