Warren, Smith Question Top Retail Testing Providers Companies on Lack of Pediatric Testing at Their COVID-19 Testing Sites
Recent Reports Indicate That Families are Having Difficulty Obtaining COVID-19 Tests for Their Young Children Testing sites in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods of major cities face higher demand than those in predominantly white neighborhoods, making tests harder to obtain for people of color
Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, sent letters to five of the largest retail testing providers and the National Community Pharmacists Association requesting information on the availability of pediatric testing for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) at their COVID-19 testing sites. Though accessible testing for adults and children is crucial to containing COVID-19 outbreaks, recent reports have indicated that families are having difficulty obtaining COVID-19 tests for their young children. The letters were sent to CVS Health, Kroger, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, and the National Community Pharmacists Association, each of which participate in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Community-Based Testing program.
"We are alarmed by recent reports that parents are having difficulty obtaining COVID-19 tests for their young children," the senators said. They continued, noting that "Families who are unable to obtain tests for their young children may be unable to access school or child care, and otherwise be unable to respond appropriately to keep their families and communities safe. This is especially problematic for children under 12, who cannot safely be left home alone."
Although there is currently no federal database of sites offering COVID-19 tests, the volunteer group Coders Against Covid has been compiling a national directory of testing locations since March 2020. Their database includes 20,144 sites that are currently operational, of which 5,712 have published information on their minimum age for diagnostic testing. Overall, fewer than one in four testing sites (4,745, or almost 24%) have information available indicating that they offer pediatric testing for at least some children under age 18. Only 2,097 sites, or about 10% of the total, have information available indicating that they offer diagnostic testing for children under age 12. The Coders Against Covid database includes 4,231 retail locations, including pharmacies, supermarkets, and big box retailers. Only 649 of these sites (about 15%) have information available indicating that they offer pediatric testing for children under 12.
"When a child or their family member is diagnosed with COVID-19, the CDC recommends testing for all of their close contacts, defined as anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of the patient," the senators continued. "For a child that tests positive, close contacts are likely to include parents and siblings, teachers, other school staff, classmates, and other children that share caregivers. Testing all exposed close contacts is necessary to identify and isolate any asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases before they spread the virus to others. When a positive case is identified, many schools and child care programs require children to test negative before they can return...This challenge is creating additional burdens for parents who are already struggling with economic stress and family responsibilities during this extended crisis."
The limited availability to pediatric testing is also likely to disproportionately impact people of color. Testing sites in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods of major cities face higher demand than those in predominantly white neighborhoods, making tests harder to obtain for people of color. Additionally, a recent CDC study found that children who have died from COVID-19 were significantly more likely to be Black, Hispanic, or American Indian/Alaskan Native than the population at large.
"We are encouraged by reports that testing providers are beginning to make pediatric testing more widely available; for instance, CVS recently announced that it would begin testing children ages 12 and older," the senators continued. "However, these restrictions continue to create barriers for families of young children, who have the greatest need for child care. Public health and equity require that testing be universally accessible for children and adults."
To better understand the current state of pediatric testing, the senators ask the retail pharmacy companies to answer a series of questions about where they offer pediatric testing, how many tests they have performed on children of different ages, and their plans to expand testing for pediatric patients and in communities of color.
In September, Senators Warren and Smith questioned several of the largest COVID-19 testing laboratories on their capacity to process COVID-19 diagnostic tests and communicate results in a timely fashion. In April, Senators Warren and Smith led 44 of their colleagues in calling on Vice President Mike Pence, Head of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct a national inventory of the COVID-19 diagnostic testing supply, publicly release data on testing results, and provide a detailed plan and timeline for addressing future shortages and gaps in the testing supply chain.
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