The Canadian Press

COVID testing value declines as vaccines fend off virus

WASHINGTON (AP) – The new, looser recommendations from federal health officials on masks have almost overshadowed another major change in government guidelines: Americans who are fully vaccinated can largely go without testing for the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that most people who have received the full course of vaccines and have no symptoms of COVID-19 do not need to be screened for the virus, even if they are. exposed to an infected person. The change represents a new phase in the epidemic after nearly a year in which testing was the main weapon against the virus. Vaccines are now at the heart of the response and have dramatically reduced hospitalizations and deaths. Experts say the CDC guidelines reflect a new reality in which nearly half of Americans have received at least one vaccine and nearly 40% are fully vaccinated. “At this point, we should really ask ourselves whether the benefits of the tests outweigh the costs – which are a lot of disruption, a lot of confusion, and very little clinical or public health benefit,” said Dr A. David Paltiel of Yale Public School. Health, which championed widespread college testing last year. Although people who have been vaccinated can still catch the virus, they are at little risk of serious illness. And positive test results can lead to what many experts now call worries and unnecessary interruptions at work, home and school, such as quarantines and shutdowns. Other health experts say the CDC’s sharp changes on the need for masks and testing have sent the message that COVID-19 is no longer a major threat, even as the United States reports a daily number of cases by nearly 30,000. “The average Joe Public interprets what the CDC says as, ‘This is done. It’s over, ”said Dr Michael Mina of Harvard University, a leading advocate for rapid and widespread testing. With more than 60% of Americans not fully immunized, he believes screening for people without symptoms still has a role to play, especially among frontline workers who have to deal with the public. CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said the updated guidelines are based on studies showing the vaccine’s robust efficacy in preventing disease in various age groups and settings. Even when vaccinated people contract COVID-19, their infections tend to be lighter, shorter, and less likely to spread to others. As a result, the CDC says people who have been vaccinated can generally be excluded from routine screening for COVID-19 in the workplace. This change could eliminate testing headaches like the one recently reported by the New York Yankees, when a player and several staff tested positive for a very sensitive COVID-19 test, despite being vaccinated. Baseball officials are discussing whether to drop or reduce screening for people who are symptom-free. But widespread attempts to forgo testing for those vaccinated could face the same dilemma seen with the CDC’s new mask guidelines: There’s no easy way to determine who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t. did not. Employers can legally require vaccinations for most workers, although few have tested this power because vaccines do not yet have full regulatory approval. Even asking employees to disclose their immunization status is viewed as intrusive by many labor law scholars. For now, testing appears to continue unchanged in places that have adopted the practice, from offices to meat packing plants to sports teams. Pork producer Smithfield Foods said it continues to conduct a combination of mandatory and optional testing for employees, depending on conditions at work sites. Amazon said it will still offer regular voluntary testing. The NBA has indicated that it plans to keep its testing system in place for now. The league has been praised for using rigorous testing to create COVID-19-free “bubbles” around players, coaches and staff. Nationally, the supply of COVID-19 tests now greatly exceeds demand. U.S. officials receive reports of around 1 million tests per day, up from a peak of more than 2 million in mid-January, although many rapid home and workplace tests are not being counted. Consumers can purchase 15-minute over-the-counter tests at drugstores and other stores. This is in addition to the increased capacity of US laboratories and hospitals, which stepped up testing after last year’s crushing request. The United States will be able to conduct 500 million monthly tests in June, according to researchers at Arizona State University. As recently as this winter, many health experts were calling for a huge testing effort to safely reopen schools, offices and other businesses. But that was before it was known how effective the vaccine would be in the real world, how quickly it could be distributed, and whether it would protect against variants. “The vaccines have outperformed, which is the best news possible,” said Dr. Jeffrey Engel of the State Council and Territorial Epidemiologists. “Now you can start to peel off some of those other layers of mitigation, such as mask use and screening.” Congress has set aside $ 46 billion in the latest pandemic relief program to boost testing, especially in schools. But with all Americans 12 and older now eligible for vaccines, many middle and high school students will be fully immunized when they return to class in the fall. And many school systems have already rejected routine testing for elementary school students because children rarely get seriously ill and a positive test can trigger disruptive quarantines. Some states have even returned federal funds for testing, preferring simpler measures such as wearing masks and social distancing. Many school officials, Engel said, “just see the screening programs as a huge burden that isn’t going to help.” ___ AP Baseball editor Ronald Blum contributed to this story from New York ___ Follow Matthew Perrone on Twitter: @AP_FDAwriter ___ The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press



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