Thousands of people traveling for the holidays this week will first test themselves for COVID-19 without a doctor, lab or any medical oversight.
While these quick home tests are hailed as a major convenience and a smart way to protect loved ones, they’ve also raised a significant challenge for public health officials. How can agencies comprehensively track cases and trends when many consumers don’t report home test results?
Federal and state health officials have worked since March 2020 to build capacity to test, report and keep tabs on COVID-19 cases. Public health officials say reporting cases is critical for spotting trends and detecting surges so hotspot communities can lessen risk and prepare hospitals for a rush of people seeking care.
But it's unclear how often customers report results from the dozen authorized home coronavirus tests that typically deliver results in 15 minutes outside a lab or doctor’s office. And public health's data blind spot is poised to grow larger.
Private test manufacturers already make more home antigen tests than standard laboratory tests — and the gap could nearly double next month as new home tests flood the market.
— Ken Alltucker, USA TODAY
Also in the news:
►Beginning Monday, Massachusetts hospitals will have to cut back on non-urgent scheduled procedures due to staffing shortages and longer patient stays, according to the state’s health authorities.
►The number of air travelers this week is expected to approach or even exceed pre-pandemic levels, and auto club AAA predicts that 48.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday period.
►More than 100 children at a vaccination event in Iowa on Saturday were given the incorrect dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, according to a statement from the hospital. A MercyOne spokesperson said there are no significant health risks associated with the larger dose, just a likelihood the children will have more severe versions of the common vaccine side effects
📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 48 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 775,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 259 million cases and 5.1 million deaths. More than 196 million Americans — 59.1% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we're reading: During COVID, they believed home was safer than school. Now some NYC parents are accused of neglect.
White House: Most federal workers have complied with vaccine mandate
Just over nine out of ten federal employees have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the required deadline, the Biden administration announced Wednesday when releasing agency-by-agency vaccination rates.
Those rates were as high as 97.8% at the Agency for International Development. Workers at the Agriculture Department had the lowest rate: 86.1%.
Federal employees had until the end of Monday to get vaccinated or request a medical or religious exemption. Unlike a rule the Biden administration wants to impose on private employers, federal workers are not allowed to opt out of the vaccine requirement if they agree to weekly testing.
Workers who are not in the process of getting vaccinated or seeking an exemption will begin a "period of education and counseling, followed by additional enforcement steps," according to the White House.
-- Maureen Groppe and Michael Collins, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press