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Shouldn’t COVID Testing Be Easier and Faster?

It turns out Europe is hip-deep in rapid test kits made by companies that would love to sell them here, too—as soon as they can get approval from the FDA.

I had a cough on Friday and thought I should get a COVID test. I couldn’t get a PCR test until Sunday. Then I sat in a drive-thru for 40 minutes, and I still won’t get results until Tuesday—and I have health insurance! Shouldn’t testing be easier and faster? —Sara R.

Upon learning that you wanted easier, faster COVID testing, my initial instinct was to contemplate you briefly, mumble something like, “Yeah, well, people in hell want ice water,” and continue drinking my bottle of Aqua Net like nothing happened. After all, this wouldn’t exactly be the first time the pandemic brought inconvenience into our lives.

“Oregon has struggled since day one to have adequate testing,” says Multnomah County Health Officer Jennifer Vines, in part due to chronic shortages of both testing supplies and personnel. But if it’s any consolation, those supplies—notably rapid test kits, which can be administered at home (and which yield results in 15 minutes) are in short supply nationwide, not just in Oregon. Last month, the CDC urged the nation to use lab tests (like the one that took Sara five days) whenever possible, to preserve the nation’s dwindling rapid test supply.*

So, once again, we’re victims of unavoidable circumstance—or so I thought. But then, as I was researching ways to stretch the phrase “tough titty” into a 350-word column (doing pretty well at it, too, if I say so myself), I ran across a tweet about an immunocompromised man in Germany who keeps a basket of 15-minute home COVID tests outside his apartment so visitors can confirm their non-infected status before entering—and no, his last name isn’t McDuck.

It turns out Europe is hip-deep in rapid test kits made by companies that would love to sell them here, too—as soon as they can get approval from the FDA. You know, the people who took four months to process Pfizer’s application for the COVID vaccine. (They’re still working on Moderna because, you know, what’s the rush?)

Maybe—maybe—the vaccine approval timeline made sense. It’s actually going into people’s bodies; you want to be sure. But a test? It’s hard to imagine someone mishandling a saliva sample so badly that the person who gave it dies. I’m as big an apologist for government technocrats as you’re likely to find, but come on, FDA, pull your head out.

*Preserve it for what? They don’t say, so I’ll just assume it’s rich people.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.