Editorial: Testing must be fast, affordable to keep students learning, employees working

There have been many frustrations since COVID-19 upended our lives in March 2020, but at this point in the pandemic, it seems absurd that Hoosiers trying to go to work and to school and to get on a plane to travel can’t get the tests they need to do those things safely.

As IBJ reporter John Russell explains in a front-page story this week, finding a place that can administer a test—and provide results quickly—has become difficult.

Many testing labs set up last year as the pandemic took hold have closed. In fact, the state in June closed dozens of testing sites operated by an outside vendor, OptumServe, a division of health care insurance giant UnitedHealth Group.

The company had provided more than 541,000 free tests in Indiana since May 2020. At its peak, the company had set up testing sites in 53 Indiana counties.

Now, people who need a test—particularly those who aren’t experiencing symptoms—must search for available appointments on the websites of CVS or Walgreens or other retailers or search for testing sites run by county health departments. A quick check of CVS testing sites on Tuesday showed many stores had no availability until next week.

That might seem like simply an inconvenience. But for a society seeking to get back to work and to school when the delta variant is raging, it’s significant.

Consider that schools are putting hundreds of kids across the state into quarantine daily because someone they were in close contact with for more than 15 minutes has tested positive. Many of those students are required to stay home for 10 days—unless they can show they’ve had a negative COVID test. Access to a rapid test means that student might be home for just four days. But without appointments readily available—and with backlogs for results—that same student might need to be out the full 10 days.

Consider, too, the workers who can’t do their jobs from home. They, too, need quick access to testing so they can get back to the job as soon as possible after exposure to someone who has COVID.

Of course, we can hope the free market figures out the testing situation—which is usually our preference. But if there’s ever a place for state and county health officials to step up, this is it. With millions of dollars in aid from the federal government in hand, there’s no reason government can’t make testing a priority again.

That might mean hiring a contractor again. It might mean providing grants or other funding to existing testing sites to expand what they’re doing. We don’t pretend to know precisely how it could be done, but we’re confident—given the amazing work state and county health officials have done over the past 18 months—that making testing quick, easy and affordable is possible. And we think that’s key to keeping business and schools operating safely.•

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