The US government announced that Americans could order free COVID rapid test kits through the mail starting Thursday.
The initiative comes after a surge of flu-related cases over the holidays due to indoor gatherings. Citizens can order four more Covid-19 tests on COVIDtests.gov, which will start shipping the online orders on December 19. Senior officials implore people to order the free test kits to check if they are positive for the virus before visiting their families during the holidays. As Christmas draws near, families will gather again, and the risk of spreading respiratory viruses heightens.
This marks the fourth round of free rapid test kits distributed en masse this year. The White House halted the distribution last September because Congress denied appeals for more funding to keep the problem. However, the Biden administration tried to seek additional funding to revive the program in light of what scientists and health experts call the tripledemic.
“We know that the virus will circulate more quickly and easily as folks gather indoors for the winter holiday season,” an official said.
“We’re facing an onslaught of three viruses — COVID, RSV and influenza. All simultaneously. We’re calling this a tripledemic,” said Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner.
“Intensive care units are at or above capacity in every children’s hospital in the United States. So it’s scary for parents,” said Amy Knight, the Children’s Hospital Association president.
“Influenza has hit the southeastern United States. Then, it moved into the Southwest. Then, it’s going up the East Coast and into the Midwest with some ferocity,” Schaffner added.
“These holiday celebrations, with all their travel and close contact, usually function as virus accelerators. We’re spending a lot of time with each other. We’re laughing and breathing deeply. And that’s an ideal environment for these respiratory viruses to spread to others,” Schaffner warned.
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Covid and other respiratory diseases impacts hospitals
After Thanksgiving, afflicted people flocked to hospitals across the nation. According to officials, more than 80% of hospitals are occupied by people who have contracted respiratory diseases. The uptick in cases hurt hospitals as they still suffer from staff shortages and budget deficits. Thousands have already succumbed to extreme conditions while 120,000 remain lying in hospital beds.
“Workforce shortages have not only made it more challenging for hospitals. But also have diminished the number of patients who can be cared for in nursing homes and other post-acute care settings,” said Nancy Foster, the vice president for patient safety in the American Hospital Association.
“Thus, patients are spending more time in hospitals, awaiting discharge to the next level of care and limiting our ability to make a bed available to a patient who truly needs to be hospitalized,” she added.
“The rates are higher because we are seeing patients with the flu in many parts of the country, and that has brought a lot of older adults and some young children into the hospitals. Additionally, RSV is filling pediatric beds and cribs along with patients who are sicker now due to putting off care during Covid-19, which has required more intensive and complex care,” she said.
“Flu activity is high right now and continuing to increase. The good news is that the vaccines this year are well-matched to the currently circulating viruses, and there is still time to get vaccinated,” said CDC’s influenza division epidemiologist Lynnette Brammer.
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People should take precautions
As diseases run wild again, authorities urge people to stay indoors. And if it is necessary to go outside, people should wear face masks. Meanwhile, the government has made it easier for people to access Covid treatments, vaccines, and tests. In addition, the administration has been using its resources to invest in personal protective equipment and pop-up vaccination sites to help states combat the crisis.
“There’s been a lot of attention directed to patients at higher risk of the complications of all of these illnesses – older persons, people who have any underlying illness, anyone who has immune compromise. I think, during this surge of this tridemic, if you will, there’s been a lot of ‘dust off your mask. Put your mask back on,'” added Schaffner.
“I don’t want to go to mandates because I think over much of the United States, you will get a lot of pushback, and people will ignore it. Public health recommendations have to be acceptable,” he added.
“The notion that during these kinds of viral surges, people at risk should be wearing masks and being more cautious seems entirely reasonable. And I add to that, particularly in this part of the country, that we should be accepting, tolerant and indeed supporting people who do that because they have a reason.”
The government also added that they would focus on nursing homes where older people are staying. The aging populace suffers more if they are infected with the virus. The Biden administration adds that they will amp up booster shot operations and Paxlovid treatments.
“We are a few years into this pandemic, and we are prepared for this moment,” said a Biden official.
Photo Credit: George Frey