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Get your Thanksgiving coronavirus tests now

A few weeks ago I saw them at my local CVS for the very first time in the wild – Abbott BinaxNOWs, currently the US most wanted quick corona test at home, neatly stacked behind the counter.

With the fall and winter holidays approaching, I thought it was a good opportunity to stock up. But after I asked for a few tests for my multi-person household, the pharmacist only picked a single box from the pile. “One box per customer,” she said, shaking her head as if she’d had this conversation four or five times that day. “Sorry, but we can’t keep these tests on the shelves.” She paused. “I mean,” she added, “there are two tests in this box.” I left the store holding my lonely overpriced purchase ($23.99! For one box!) on my chest like contraband, frustrated.

With the weather cooling and people pouring in, testing, combined with other measures like vaccines, ventilation and masks, could make our upcoming festivities safer – we’ve known that for a long time. But nearly two years after the pandemic, America still hasn’t bothered to prepare for the tough months ahead. Cheap home coronavirus tests are scarce and while their availability is slowly increasing, high demand around Thanksgiving will almost certainly make the search difficult again. This year, to test, not turkeys, could prove to be the most expensive, prep-heavy fixtures on many a Thanksgiving table. The power of tests depends on people being able to open and pay for them, and use them correctly and often enough. But scarcity can push people to use the tests in non-ideal ways, like my pharmacist almost advised me to do.

“A box of two tests is really meant to be used on one person,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. The goal here is serial testing, especially if the first result is negative. Tests provide snapshots, not predictions, and a virus that is initially scarce in the respiratory tract can skyrocket in a matter of hours or days, especially if it’s a speedster like the Delta variant. The BinaxNOW actually describes this in the manual: “A positive result is very accurate, but a negative result does not rule out infection.”

Other types of coronavirus testing, including PCR testing, usually only take one try to detect the virus. (Of course, no test is perfect.) They repeatedly test the SARS-CoV-2 genetic material so they can pick up the pathogen even if it isn’t abundant. However, antigen tests like the BinaxNOW simply scan for the bits of coronavirus proteins that are already there. They’re likely to contract the most dense of infections — infections that saturate the airways with viruses, as usually happens when humans are quite contagious — but an early, low-level infection can be easily missed. The tests are also best Bee spotting the virus in the next few days symptoms appear for the first time; when used to screen people who feel healthy, including those very recently exposed, the results may include: a little more mixed. Those imperfect results wouldn’t be such a big deal if we could say that people who carried fewer viruses didn’t pose a huge transmission risk. But “we still don’t know how much virus to transmit,” Esther Babady, a clinical microbiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told me. A negative result does not guarantee that someone will not spread the virus.

Until accuracy of the buoyAbbott tells users to take a second test 36 to 72 hours after the first — that way, the product can provide “the best coverage,” Mary Rodgers, a chief scientist in Abbott’s diagnostic industry, wrote in an email. . Suppose I split a box of two tests between my husband and me; the confirmation goes away, and the products lose punch.

After my disappointing CVS encounter, I wanted to make sure there were more tests around. But when I checked, CVS was also sold out online, as was a very similar product, the Quidel QuickVue. So is Walgreens. And Walmart. Amazon had the QuickVue in stock – if I was willing to buy 45 two-packs for $1,079.55 (and wrap myself in cotton swabs while my bank froze my credit to investigate anomalous expenses). It’s no wonder that several experts told me they had started testing for the holiday weeks, if not months ago, long before most Americans even thought of pre-ordering their birds.

Even if they’re not bought in bulk, the costs add up quickly: For Thanksgiving, for example, I’d ideally like to have a two-pack for myself so I can buy one ahead of time, a day or two before dinner, and then a second flat. for the event. Then I would like another two-pack that I would start about three days later, to make sure I hadn’t contracted the virus while celebrating. Multiply that by eight people — a perfectly reasonable size for a soiree on a Turkish day — and I’d be looking at 32 tests, packed in 16 boxes and nearly a $400 bill, if we’re talking standard-price BinaxNOWs. (Consider: A budget turkey, thick enough to feed eight people, can go for about $15; even real spark plugs often cost no more than $150.) Even if there’s no shortage, that’s way out of reach for most American families, including many of those who most need access to quick and easy tests.

The Biden administration has taken major steps in recent months to make juice manufacturing and distributing rapid tests in the United States, including invoking the Defense Production Act, and pledge approximately $3 billion in federal funds to the cause. tens of these products already have a green emergency light from the FDA; more will follow. Mara Aspinall, a biomedical diagnostics expert at Arizona State University, told me she expects significantly more tests to be available in November and December. (Aspinall sits on the board of directors for OraSure Technologies, one of several companies producing rapid coronavirus tests.)

Not all of those tests will go straight to drugstore shelves, though. Many will end up in doctors’ offices and other health care settings, to be used as point-of-care alternatives to slower lab testing; others will be bought by companies looking to screen people at conferences or workplaces, perhaps to comply with a mandate. The Biden administration’s promise to produce more “rapid” tests is also a catch-all – any test that falls into this category is fast, but not all are intended for convenient home use without a prescription. A few need a prescription; a few require a telehealth proctor to oversee the process. Their design and price tags also vary; some, like the BinaxNOW, look for antigens, while others, like the Lucira, are accelerated PCR-like tests. The latter also cost a lot more, way over $50 a pop. The administration has said that about 200 million At home By the end of the year, Americans could quickly test every month, but in a country of 330 million people, that is only possible up to a point.

I’ve been checking online sales sites intermittently since the CVS incident and the tests seem to have become more available. My CVS still restricts purchases, but in the past few days I was told I could buy now two boxes and another time I could buy four. Still, several experts told me they are concerned about the surge in demand in the few days before Thanksgiving. “Trying to get those tests the week of is going to be an unmitigated disaster,” Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, told me. The best move will probably involve doing some tests before the turkey begins to thaw or brine.

Aspinall also recommends taking a “test agnostic” approach. Serial administration of antigen tests is great; that’s how scoring a no or cheap PCR swab on a community site, if there is time to wait for results. If necessary, families with no recent exposure, who attend low-risk gatherings — where everyone is vaccinated and, for example, gathers outside — may only get away with antigen testing once. Shortcutting tests, however, become more risky when entering crowds of strangers or places where the virus increases, or mixes with unvaccinated people, without masks or indoors. “Then you should do two” [at-home rapid] testing,” Aspinall said. (She and her husband always test twice before visiting their young grandson.) And no matter how or how often negative results are produced, they’re not insta armor against SARS-CoV-2, Babady told me. Tests do not provide any of the protection vaccines provide, and work best when paired with other measures that are active appearance avoid infection.

But tests can be such a powerful partner for shots and masks that they’re worth seeking out. After spending some quality time with my laptop this weekend, I was able to find several retailers selling at-home antigen tests for $14 a two-pack (about as cheap as they are in the United States); I’ve finally bought enough to supply my household with our anticipated December gatherings. Even testing at home takes time and resources. More supply will hopefully solve the first problem and help with the second, but for now adequate testing remains a privilege reserved for those who can afford it.