Last Tuesday, the Biden administration launched its new website for ordering COVID-19 tests. They did so one day earlier than expected.
We’re well into year three of the pandemic. And a concerted effort to get more tests to the public now passes for progress? Let’s be clear: The federal government does not deserve credit for fighting COVID-19 on what amounts to a tape delay.
People who visit the new website will be able to order four free at-home tests to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service within seven to 12 days. Amazon figured out two-day delivery years ago. Maybe the federal government will someday do the same?
Test manufacturers and administration officials estimate that it will realistically take months for all 1 billion government-purchased tests to reach people’s doorsteps. By that time, experts predict we’ll be well past the peak of omicron cases, which are already receding in some of the earliest places to be hit by the variant.
President Joe Biden doesn’t see this late push to make more tests available as a failure of his COVID-19 policy. He told ABC News in late December, “You could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago. … I wish I had thought about ordering [rapid tests] two months ago.”
But he, along with anyone reading the news at the time, did know. Experts had been warning of an impending wave of holiday cases for weeks. In October, a group of them came to the White House with a proposal to fend off the surge by scaling up testing capacity. Biden rejected it. Instead, the administration revealed an elaborate plan to have privately insured people file claims with their insurance companies to reimburse the cost of at-home tests. Even that rule didn’t kick in until Jan. 15, long after many people were scrambling to snap up tests during the holidays.
The government’s sclerosis and lack of foresight on testing aren’t surprising. And they certainly don’t deserve our praise.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.