Photo Credit: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

Ending the program that provided Americans with free COVID-19 tests is a huge mistake. (Op-Ed)

On March 6th, the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, officially ended the program that provided free at-home COVID-19 rapid antigen tests. Before March 6th, families were able to order four free tests delivered to their homes through COVID.gov. “ASPR has delivered over 1.8 billion free COVID-19 tests to the American people through COVID.gov and direct distribution pathways and will continue distributing millions of tests per week to long-term care facilities, food banks, health centers, and schools,” an ASPR spokesperson told CNN. The decision was reportedly made due to falling rates of COVID-19 infection.

However, data released by the CDC shows that COVID-related hospitalizations are still elevated, but they are dropping in certain areas of the country. What about families who cannot afford to purchase a COVID-19 test? Most companies require employees to submit proof of a positive test to be excused from work without consequence. For low-income Americans, most cannot risk losing their jobs while simultaneously being unable to afford to purchase a test or go to their doctor’s office to get tested. This could lead people with COVID-19 infections to attend work without knowing if they have the illness, thus increasing the possibility of increased transmission.

Often, physicians will only administer a test if the patient is symptomatic. We know that some people who contract the virus are asymptomatic.

The end of this program is a major misstep and a huge mistake. If free rapid at-home tests are not available to all Americans, more people will be unable or less willing to take a test. We have come so far in decreasing cases of the deadly respiratory virus, why stop now? The pandemic is not over, and we should be doing everything we can as a country to prevent more infections and deaths. No one wants to return to quarantine, and low-income Americans deserve access to free tests. Lives are at stake, yet the ASPR doesn’t feel the need to continue to support those who need it most.

The CDC recommends that people test if they have any COVID symptoms including a sore throat, a runny nose, loss of smell or taste, or a fever.

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