ESTRICH: The failure of the home test solution

Remember when the president’s answer to the new variant was going to be 500 million home tests so we wouldn’t have a repeat of those long lines for tests that were a fixture of the early days of the pandemic?

Drive down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and about the only foot traffic you see is outside the urgent care places and pop-up shops with names like “Sameday Health” and “911 Covid.” Then there are the drive-in places, where cars line up in otherwise empty parking lots the way we used to for vaccines at Dodger Stadium. There are still lines for vaccines, but the ones for tests are way longer.

My son has COVID-19, or at least I think he does. He did two home tests that were positive, one PCR that was negative and then a PCR that was positive. For my part, I did two home tests that were definitely positive, one home test that was definitely negative and a negative PCR. I had no symptoms. My son has had symptoms since last week, even though he initially tested negative.

He is still suffering. Me, who knows? Maybe I already had it. Maybe I didn’t. I have no idea. It doesn’t really matter. Virtually everybody is going to get it.

Why are we not ready for this? What about all the people with underlying conditions that will make this way worse than the flu?

Who in the world thought we would somehow get through this by relying on unreliable home tests?

The president is out there trying to sell his Build Back Better plan to a country that is trying to figure out which home test is the most reliable (in my experience, which as you can see, is not inconsiderable, the one in the black box by Abbott is the most accurate) and which is the least reliable (the white box, according to the tech at my local CVS, where all the boxes are sold out).

“Check back next week for home tests,” the handwritten sign at the pharmacy counter reads. The distribution system for tests is as bad as the one for vaccines was. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical companies must be making a fortune. And the pop-ups.

There are lines at the market and at the pharmacy, not simply because people are sick and/or panicking (which might explain the empty shelves where the green juice and the toilet paper should be) but also because so many essential workers are sick, or have been exposed to someone who is.

Let’s face it. If you’ve been out of your house, or if you live with people who have social and work lives, you’ve probably been exposed. Everyone who has kids has one with COVID-19, I’ve come to figure out; or someone in their kids’ classes has COVID-19, and the other kids may — or may not — be notified and sent home. No one is quite sure. Of anything.

The new rule is that medical workers who test positive are still supposed to work. I kid you not. Every day brings a new surprise: no more quarantines, no more sick leave, now we want sick people to take care of the sicker people because, frankly, there is no one else.

The good news for the administration is that people have temporarily stopped talking about the ridiculous increases in gas and food prices.

The bad news is that they’re talking about COVID-19 instead, and why it is that no one seems to know anything except not to believe most of what you hear. From the authorities, too.

It is not simply an era of COVID-19 that is troubling, but the era of distrust of authority that it has brought, not only among the “crazies” who reject science but also among the rest of us, who can’t figure out exactly what we are supposed to do when there is a faint pink line on an unreliable test.