A few days ago, I called my pediatrician to set appointments for my children. One child needed to be seen for a potential UTI, the infant needed the next round of standard vaccinations.
However, because one child had symptoms related to Covid-19 (a stuffy nose) the pediatrician would not set an appointment until our family tested negative. A fair request, but only one problem: where could we even get a Covid-19 test?
I asked the nurse if her office had any or if she knew where tests were in stock. She replied, “I strongly urge you to take your children to the nearest emergency room to get tested for Covid-19.”
As a nation, we spent the last two years shutting down businesses, closing schools, social distancing, masking etc., so that hospitals would not get overwhelmed. So why are we overwhelming hospital emergency rooms with pediatrician (and other doctor) referrals for non-emergency Covid-19 tests?
Never mind the fact that emergency room visits are expensive, individuals who truly need emergency care could face longer wait times due to such referrals, potentially leading to greater fatalities.
I recently read a Twitter thread about a little boy who needed forehead stitches. He bled so profusely that his parents could not determine whether the eye was damaged as well. Despite the severity, the hospital required the family to wait all night to be seen, as the emergency room was filled with parents getting Covid tests for their children.
The situation puts parents like me at a moral impasse: do I allow my child’s UTI to worsen and do I postpone my infant’s vaccination against deadly diseases such as polio for the greater good? Or do I act in my family’s self-interest and clog up the emergency room anyway?
But with little other choice, many are opting to get tested at emergency rooms anyway. Without reasonable access to Covid-19 tests, general and pediatric doctors are recommending heading to emergency rooms.
We cannot continue down this road. If, of necessity, we continue to treat emergency rooms as testing centers, then the health system could crash, and no one will get care.
Of course, there would be no issue if the public had reasonable access to the necessary Covid-19 testing.
Just before Christmas, the Biden administration announced that they would be mailing 500 million at-home Covid tests to American households. As Sally Pipes wrote in a recent op-ed, while it is a nice promise, it is not clear where the President will find the tests.
The shortage is not due to a lack of technology or capability, but to an inexplicable surplus of regulation that perplexes experts.
Since early 2020, many companies have developed rapid testing products. But because of unnecessarily high standards, lack of communication, and convoluted approval processes, most have not received emergency use authorization.
The FDA must step-aside and ease the approval process so that the market will be flooded with at-home Covid tests that are as cheap and available as a pack of gum at the grocery store.
McKenzie Richards is a Policy Research Associate at the Pacific Research Institute.