PHILADELPHIA, PA — At the time of year that many Americans usually start making holiday travel plans, the consumer advocacy group, PennPIRG, is launching the “Home Safe for the Holidays” initiative on Friday. The campaign calls on Gov. Wolf to ensure his state reaches the testing levels needed to suppress the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) so that people can gather more safely over the upcoming holidays.
“Most years, Americans celebrate the holidays with family and close friends. But this isn’t ‘most years.’ No one wants to get their parents or grandparents sick. The only way we can safely congregate is if everyone who needs a test, gets a test and if we follow basic health protocols like mask-wearing,” said Emma Horst-Martz, PennPIRG Advocate.
PennPIRG is urging people to sign a petition to the governor urging him to commit to hitting the testing target that the Brown School of Public Health and Harvard Global Health Institute say is necessary to effectively suppress the virus. That’s 20 times as much testing as Pennsylvania is doing now. Governors should also commit to returning test results in 48 hours or less, which is the time frame health professionals say is important for preventing isolated incidents from becoming outbreaks.
Gov. Wolf can follow the example of other states to achieve our goal. For example, Massachusetts has hit its testing target. Connecticut and Maine are also close to hitting their targets, with turnaround times of 48 hours or fewer for results.
“If we want to see our families for the holidays, attend religious services, or eat out at a restaurant without fear of contracting or spreading the virus, we need to dramatically increase the amount of testing we are doing in Pennsylvania. Let’s make it happen,” said Horst-Martz.
The federal government announced recently that it plans to deliver 100 million rapid tests to states. That’s good, but nowhere near the testing capacity we need. It’s up to state governors to make it happen, and they can do so by borrowing best practices from successful states. Those include:
- Boosting test purchasing power by joining a consortium with other governors, similar to the one started by Gov. Larry Hogan in Maryland and the National Governors Association.
- Increasing the number and variety of testing locations including drive-through testing sites, walk-up sites, and mobile testing units.
- Mobilizing a local network of labs to increase testing capacity similar to the NY model.
- Targeting testing efforts in high-risk settings, such as nursing homes, meat packing facilities, schools and prisons.
- Launching a state-sponsored educational campaign so that people know when they should get a test, where they can get tested and how.
- Breaking down barriers to testing so that anyone who needs a test can get a test, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.
- Taking other measures to reduce the spread of the virus like closing non-essential businesses until case levels subside, and implementing statewide mask mandates.
For a more in-depth analysis of what is needed to have a semblance of a normal holiday season, check out this blog from U.S. PIRG’s Public Health Campaigns Director Matt Wellington and Dr. Syra Madad, the senior director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program at NYC Health & Hospitals.
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