There was a lot of talk about new protocols for testing for COVID-19 as Vermont works to find a way to move forward safely while living with the virus.
Vermont is now asking people who test positive for COVID to call their own close contacts, who in turn are asked to get tested for COVID. Key to all of this, per Governor Scott’s weekly press conference on November 16, is adopting a testing protocol that involves some combination of free PCR tests (offered at schools for students and staff, as well as at designated testing sites for the public) as well as rapid antigen tests.
Rapid antigen tests are also being used at schools as part of the Test to Stay program where those identified as close contacts to someone who has COVID and who are asymptomatic and vaccinated or unvaccinated are tested daily for seven days.
This combination of testing, per Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine and Agency of Health and Human Service Secretary Mike Smith is how we are to manage our way through the shift from COVID as pandemic, to COVID as endemic in our society.
That sounds like a good plan, but let’s talk about execution. As we enter the winter, we need concrete specifics about where and how people can obtain rapid antigen tests. Not everyone can afford to travel to a pharmacy to buy them (at $20 for a box of two tests) or buy them online. Not everyone can take the time off work and has means of transportation or gas money to travel to state PCR testing sites.
If this testing protocol is going to work (and it does), we need hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of the rapid tests and we need them to be free at food shelves and local libraries. We need school kids to be able to bring them home for their families on a regular basis so that when someone starts to cough or sneeze, a test can be administered and people make informed decisions.
We need people and employers to be able to regularly request and receive these tests free of charge, or at a nominal sliding fee-based charge. It’s a matter of public health, but also social justice.