In a Tuesday afternoon address from the White House, the president promised to ramp up testing sites and the number of "free" tests that will be made available to those who want them. He said a website will soon be established through which people can request test kits to be sent to their homes. And it's all "free," he repeated. He sounded like those Medicare supplement adds that just ended after open enrollment season closed.
I have several questions about these kits, which the president said would number 500 million. First, what happens when they run out? The at-home kits I have seen contain a limited number of swabs. When they are used, do you order more and for how long? Will the government pay for these, too? If so, will it continue to pay for them and for how long? Taxpayers have a right to know, given the deepening debt.
Second, because the tests are self-administered will the results be accepted by airlines for international travel? Airport testing sites I have seen in recent weeks charge up to $179 for a rapid test. On a trip to Italy in October, my wife and I were charged $150 each for a rapid test at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. They were the most expensive Q-Tips we have ever purchased.
Tents and vans have popped up, especially in major cities. They, too, often charge a lot of money. On a recent visit to a shopping mall, I saw a van in the parking lot that offered drive-thru testing for $150 a pop. Talk about price gouging. Will these be put out of business because tests will now be almost universally free?
Two things the president was right about. In a rare moment, he gave credit to "the previous administration," meaning former President Trump, for its rapid development of a vaccine. The other was his denunciation of misinformation promoted on some cable TV channels and on social media. I am still seeing claims that vaccines are part of a "one world government" plot and a conspiracy between politicians and Big Pharma to make gobs of money and erode our freedoms.
This is reminiscent of other conspiracy theories through the ages. As noted, a virus doesn't discriminate when it comes to parties, politics, or countries. The president made a compelling argument when he said his urging to get vaccinated and boosted "is not to control your life, but to save it."
There is a better way to approach this than to make test kits available to everyone, because not everyone needs or wants them. As with the initial rollout of vaccines, make the kits available first to the most vulnerable. Their names are on a list. That list is called Medicare. Allow older people and those with underlying health conditions to go to the head of the line.
By acknowledging that people are "tired" of this virus, its variants, masks, and other limitations on our freedoms, at least the president was trying to tap into the emotions most people are feeling. That's what a good politician should do. There is still too much contradictory information coming from too many sources and too many Americans remain skeptical and not sure whom they can trust. This is a hurdle the president has yet to clear, and it may turn out that not even presidential powers are sufficient for him to do so.