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COVID-19 testing: the early days, today, and where we go from here | FOX43 Finds Out

From one testing site in Pennsylvania to tests that are delivered to your front door, FOX43 Finds Out takes a look back at two years of COVID-19 testing.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — COVID-19 testing has ebbed and flowed as we've dealt with different COVID-19 variants since the first cases popped in up Pennsylvania in March of 2020.

From waiting weeks for results to just seconds.

FOX43 Finds Out how testing for the virus has changed over the last two years. 

On March 6th, 2020 Governor Tom Wolf held a news conference. There were no masks. No social distancing. The first words out of his mouth were 'We received confirmation of two presumed, and I emphasize presumed positive cases of COVID-19 or coronavirus in Pennsylvania."

Two years ago, that's all we knew.

Wolf continued on, "Now I'm saying presumed positive for a reason because the results have to be confirmed by the CDC."

There have been more than 2.2 million confirmed cases in our state since then. On March 6th, 2020, getting a COVID test was nearly impossible. At the time, the only place in the entire state that could test for the coronavirus was at the Department of Health state lab in Exton. That was when Dr. Rachel Levine was the Secretary of Health for the commonwealth.

Now, she's known as Admiral Levine, the Assistant Secretary for Health for the Biden administration.

She says, "It was very challenging about the limitations in testing that we had in the Spring of 2020 as we were trying to work to contain the virus, then to stop the spread and then the curve, you remember all those terms."

Not only has her title changed, but the way we test for the virus has changed a lot too.

"Now we have 20,000 testing sites throughout the nation," said Levine. 

Two years in, we're still not perfect. The omicron variant hit the United States hard. Testing companies, sites, and labs were overwhelmed. People were waiting hours to just get a test - and days to get results. Pharmacies were either sold out or limiting the number of at-home tests you could buy.

We asked Levine why were we not prepared at that moment for the influx of testing that we needed?

She said, "It took a number of weeks, or a month or more to gear up the manufacturing and distribution for those tests. We're going to make sure that if there's any further variant through ASPER, The Assistance Secretary of Preparedness and emergency response and her team, that there are tests available for the United States to be able to deal with any future variant that might occur." 

Part of the plan to make sure that doesn't happen again was to send at-home tests to Americans.

"We have bought 1 billion tests to send to Americans for free," said Levine.

But at the end of February, more than 200 million tests have yet to be claimed. 

A big reason why is because the COVID-19 numbers dropped dramatically and other people just don't want to test anymore. Now, starting the week of March 6th, Americans can request another round of those at-home tests.

As for the future of COVID-19 testing, Levine says it is constantly evolving to be more accurate and simple.

Levine said, "The President has made it very clear that we are moving towards a time when COVID-19 will not disrupt our daily lives."

We already see that happening. Most cities have dropped mask mandates and even vaccine requirements. The "surveillance testing" for travel or sports teams has also dropped off. Levine expects this trend to continue.

As we evolve, so has Levine's message to Pennsylvanians.

Back in 2020, it was a lot of  "Stay Calm, stay home, and stay safe."

Now, two years later, Levine said this is her message, "We want people to stay informed, we want people to stay connected and we want people to stay safe."

If you have a story you want Jackie De Tore to look into, FOX43 wants to find out. Send her a message on Facebook or send an email to FOX43FindsOut@FOX43.com.   

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