You would hope that, nearly two years into this global pandemic, the wealthiest nation in the history of humankind would figure out a way to make COVID tests economically accessible.
What I’ve heard and experienced secondhand in recent weeks has shown to me that such hope is not the reality. I have seen this for myself in a number of ways, the latest being the tests a family member has needed after being exposed to multiple people who tested positive for the virus.
In the case of the family member, one of the tests was a PCR test at a testing site. Even when you get past the fact that some places expect you to pay them a lot of money to get a test (though the relative got his PCR test for free), there was the issue of the long line to get tested. It was a two-hour wait for the relative just to get tested! Worse yet, I know this story, in terms of how long it took just to get a PCR test, is far from an isolated one. This is a problem from an economic access standpoint because lines are so long that some people may need to take time off from work in order to get tested and still perform the other tasks of surviving as a human being (e.g. doing laundry and cooking food), yet lack the work schedule to take several hours off (once you factor in the transit between the testing site and some places not giving their employees the time off in order to get tested) needed to get a PCR test.
Then there are the at-home COVID tests…if you’re able to get your hands on one. That is a big “if” because I’ve been hearing reports from across the United States of people struggling to get their hands on one of those at-home testing kits. When I got an at-home testing kit the other day for the relative who got multiple exposures to the virus, it cost $24! To put the cost of the kit into perspective, $24 is nearly half a day’s wages for someone who earns the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and over 1 ½ hours worth of wages for someone who earns $15 an hour. The bottom line is that many at-home tests aren’t cheap, and they are expensive enough that some may have to choose financially between dinner on the table and an at-home COVID test—even in cases when the person considering the at-home test has been exposed to others who have tested positive for the virus.
I know that the Biden administration is looking to make more at-home tests accessible, so hopefully the increase in supply will be enough to lower the cost of the at-home tests. I also know that some parts of the United States are looking to ramp up their COVID testing infrastructure so that it won’t take so much time to get a test at a testing site. But for now, at least, many parts of the country have not mastered how to make a COVID test economically accessible for those who earn the least money and those who have the least flexible jobs.
 There was one time last summer that I considered getting a PCR test in the same building where I work in Manhattan. When I called the place, I was told that it would cost $290! My mom was also quoted ridiculous amounts to get a COVID test a few months ago—in one case up to $250 for a PCR test, with cash only and no insurance accepted. (For the record, I didn’t pay $290 for my test and my mom didn’t pay $250—I didn’t see the use of paying that much money when I could get a test for free elsewhere.)