But public health theater is mostly useless anyway.
In the last few months, there was a mostly meaningless kerfuffle in which the Biden administration initially dismissed and then embraced the idea of sending everyone free tests. The super COVID careful folks justified a return to normalcy by obsessively testing themselves and everyone else. The home antigen self-tests they use for this purpose were never properly tested and aren’t meant to test asymptomatic people anyway making the entire thing a pointless bit of public health theater.
Pile on Omicron and the tests become particularly useless. Even the FDA is conceding issues with Omicron testing.
The FDA is collaborating with the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) RADx program to study the performance of antigen tests with patient samples that have the omicron variant. RADx recently performed preliminary studies evaluating the performance of some antigen tests using patient samples containing live virus, which represents the best way to evaluate true test performance in the short-term. Early data suggests that antigen tests do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity.
The FDA has flagged some tests that don’t work at all, but even reduced sensitivity makes these tests and the entire testing regime much less relevant.
The NIH is still insisting that people go ahead and use the tests anyway.
Although rapid tests showed reduced sensitivity to omicron compared with earlier variants in a lab study, the real-world implications are not clear, said Bruce J. Tromberg, director of NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and lead of RADx Tech, the joint FDA and NIH effort to speed up development of diagnostics.
“The diminished sensitivity from the [lab experiments] pales in comparison” with the increased transmissibility of omicron, Tromberg said. “Even with reduced performance, it will still pick up infections and it will help individuals get treatment sooner.”
That argument makes no sense, but public health theater is all about insisting on measures that the bureaucracy knows won’t work.