As Americans shed masks and return to offices and restaurants, officials in states across the country are scaling back the most visible public health efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic: free state-run testing and vaccination sites.
States like Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Ohio have also stopped releasing daily data on virus hospitalizations, infections and deaths.
The cutbacks are coming at a time when the virus appears, at least for now, to be in retreat in the United States as a whole, with cases falling swiftly in recent weeks. But the more transmissible version of the Omicron variant, known as BA.2, is already surging in Europe and Asia and has become the dominant cause of new cases in the United States, and the statistics have started to edge upward once again in several states, including New York.
And Americans still lag behind many other countries in vaccination. Only about 65 percent of Americans have completed an initial vaccination so far, and less than one-third have had a first booster shot. With protection waning overt time, federal authorities announced on Tuesday that people 50 or older could get a second booster shot.
If the United States is in for another surge, public health officials said, it could be difficult to quickly restore the vaccination and testing sites and other measures that are now being shut down. But may local officials say they cost too much to keep open when demand is low, and federal support is drying up.
“If people aren’t walking in the door, it burns a lot of cash to have a fully staffed testing center,” said Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine. “So I can understand why states and localities are closing them. We’re going to have to find a way to be flexible.”
Maintaining that flexibility may prove challenging.
“I’m concerned about what’s next,” said Robert Spencer, chief executive of Kintegra Health, which operates health centers across central North Carolina. Noting that Kintegra’s mobile testing and vaccination clinics have relied on federal reimbursement that is longer available, he said, “When I shut it down, and all these people go find other jobs, and the next variant comes along, will I be ready?”