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COVID Testing Slows From '100mph to About 25'

Significant drop in demand due to various factors may leave a glut of testing supplies
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 27, 2021 9:00 AM CST

(Newser) – Just five weeks ago, LA County was conducting more than 350,000 weekly coronavirus tests. Now, county officials say testing has nearly collapsed. More than 180 government-supported sites are operating at only a third of their capacity, per the AP. "It's shocking how quickly we've gone from moving at 100 miles an hour to about 25," said Dr. Clemens Hong, who leads the county's testing operation. After a year of struggling to boost testing, communities across the US are seeing plummeting demand, shuttering test sites or even trying to return supplies. The drop in screening comes at a significant moment in the outbreak: Experts are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 is receding after killing more than 500,000 Americans, but they're concerned emerging variants could prolong the epidemic. US testing hit a peak on Jan. 15, when the country was averaging more than 2 million tests per day. Since then, the average number of daily tests has fallen more than 28%.

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The drop mirrors declines across all major virus measures since January, including new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Officials say those encouraging trends, together with harsh winter weather, the end of the holiday travel season, pandemic fatigue, and a growing focus on vaccinations, are sapping interest in testing. With more than 150 million new vaccine doses due for delivery by late March, testing is likely to fall further as local governments shift staff and resources to giving shots, although testing remains important for tracking and containing the outbreak. With demand falling fast, the country may soon have a glut of unused supplies. "You have to pick your battles here," a Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists doctor says. "Everyone would agree that if you have one public health nurse, you're going to use that person for vaccination, not testing."

(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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