Where Are the Damn PCR Tests Already? It’s Been 21 Months!

When I look back on the prior two years — if I’m around to look back — I’m going to remember these last few days as the moment I met peak frustration and bade it come sit a spell. I’m used to blaming Donald Trump when I achieve this level of aggravation, but the Biden administration a year after Trump’s departure has some serious explaining to do.

I’ve been a good soldier all throughout the long slog of COVID, got my shot times three, got my daughter vaxxed, wore my mask and social distanced, stayed away from people when possible, and home-schooled my daughter when needed. My daughter was diagnosed with COVID in the late spring and early fall of this school year. I had to get her PCR tested twice so she could return home. I was noticing symptoms and a negative PCR test, with its neat jab up her nose, was acceptable evidence of her health.

She received the results in less than an hour both at Convenient MD’s storefront and in a hospital lot. Based on this experience and what I’d been reading in the news, I assumed the issue of insufficient testing was taken care of, at least on the supply side and at least in my immediate region. I’d found available tests on the same day, twice, a few blocks from my house. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s how we beat this thing.

It is not like that anymore.

My daughter was in classroom close contact with a child who had COVID early last week. Because of the incubation period, there was no PCR test until the weekend. Although the school could and did perform antigen testing on the children, they are not as accurate. “More of a snapshot,” the nurse told me. Every health professional I consulted recommended “stay the course,” keep her in school, masked and distanced — her teacher is a remorseless autocrat about this, thank God — and so we watched and waited.

As the weekend arrived, so did symptoms for both of us — but only some of them: cough, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue. We both retained our sense of taste and smell, never came close to popping a fever, and in any other year this was just a nasty little cold… but in 2021, until you get a negative test, you’re a potential one-person superspreader event with symptoms like those.

After recalling how easy it was for me to get my daughter tested earlier in the year, I started calling around on Sunday to find out if there were any available testing sites. My first stop was her pediatrician’s office, which I discovered was closed on the weekends because kids in New Hampshire never get sick on Sundays or something. CVS and Walgreen’s offered tests, but to book one (book one?), I had to go through a third-party internet-and-telephone process that used overseas phone banks to answer questions. The main hospital’s test signup process was also run by a third party, and was equally Byzantine to encompass.

After all this, I was able to make a Thursday appointment at 4:45 in Nashua. Meanwhile, my daughter and I were showing enough symptoms to be worried, but as the day wore on and the kid’s cold medication did its work, her symptoms slowly subsided. By Monday morning she was as bright as a new penny, no symptoms, and the school’s antigen test declared her negative. She went.

All’s well that ends well, but this is all far from over. There will come a day, probably soon, when she needs to be tested. This will mean driving for hours across the state in order to receive test results that will take longer. It is the worst setup possible, and with Omicron variants on the rise, it will be nearly impossible to prevent a fourth COVID from subsuming another winter.

Anyone who has an honest ear can recall how it all began: Trump, then-President, literally tore down the entire infrastructure for testing 21 months ago because testing was causing more cases in his twisted orange mind. More cases was bad politics for him. I remember the moment, weeks into the pandemic, when the screams for “more testing” finally subsided, because they just weren’t coming thanks to Trump. They didn’t, for the most part.

Joe Biden entered office with a solemn pledge to do better. In a number of key areas, he has most certainly performed at a level that is comparable to the challenges facing him. The staggering lack of easily available testing, however, remains a glaring national crisis that, from the sound of things, doesn’t seem to have much of a share of the administration’s attention.

Germany, South Korea, and the United Kingdom all have a race against us when it comes testing. This is almost entirely because they have made it so easy to get these tests. When asked on Monday by a reporter why we were lagging behind, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki rolled out a laundry list of Biden policies — mostly making sick people deal with the bureaucracy colossus of the private insurance industry to get tests and treatment — which did not sit well with the assembled.

When the reporter pressed the secretary about that process being too complex — “Why not just make them free … and have them available everywhere?” — Psaki replied with one of the shabbier takes of her tenure: “Should we just send one to every American? What happens if every American has one? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that?”

Ah, yes, the “How much does it cost?” question, always asked when politicians have the chance to help people, but never invoked when cruise missiles light up the sky somewhere over the horizon. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter costs $1.5 trillion and rising, and it doesn’t work, and few people ask the question.

Do we have to send one to everyone or should we limit ourselves? YES, without regard to the cost. If we can finance those Top Gun paperweights then we can bloody well get swabs into the noses of sick persons for no better reason that our own enlightened selfishness. Psaki’s answer could have been drafted on the desk of an insurance CEO.

It is incredible to me that we continue to struggle with a dilemma that shouldn’t have been there. Frontline health workers are no longer wearing garbage bags into ICU rooms as protection like they did at the beginning, and the vaccines have changed the game substantially… but here comes Omicron to change the game again, perhaps dramatically. If we don’t know how many of us are really sick, we cannot begin to solve this crisis, and we get that data through testing.

“It remains incomprehensibly inconvenient for ordinary people to figure out whether they have Covid-19,” reports New Republic writer Natalie Shure. If this dearth of testing is allowed to endure and Omicron blots out the sun for another run of months, Biden will rue that day last summer when he gave us all that happy talk about the “Summer of Freedom” before us. It was a chimera, exacerbated by glaring gaffes like this.

If I know anything at all about voters, it is that they remember being vocally let down by a president — “Read my lips, no new taxes!” followed later by “Hey, new taxes!” — pretty much better than they remember anything else. The Republicans will gladly remind them of this, and another dark COVID crossing could be followed with a dance with devils in the pale moonlight November 2022.