Omicron outlook: Where are the tests? And more COVID-19 news you can use

The difficulty finding coronavirus test kits in many parts of the country and delays in getting results are causing increasing frustration and contributing to the surge of  COVID-19 infections.

Negative test results can be a necessity for any number of activities, from going to work to boarding an airplane or attending a sporting event. Delays in getting results — or inability to find a test kit — can mean people with very mild or no symptoms may presume they are not infected and go about their usual routines.

President Joe Biden announced last month that the federal government will buy half a billion COVID-19 rapid test kits and distribute them free to people to use at home. But despite high public demand for tests, it will still be several more weeks before these kits are available to be shipped, White House officials said.

A fourth COVID-19 vaccine may be needed for most people by next fall because of what will likely be waning immunity, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said.

While the booster that millions of Americans received this past fall should hold strong through this winter’s omicron surge, Bancel said the efficacy of boosters will probably decline over the course of several months, similar to what happened with the first two doses.

 It is the ultimate irony: More COVID-19 treatments exist now than at any other time during the pandemic, but the skyrocketing number of cases from the surging omicron variant might mean they cannot be accessed when needed most.

Doctors and health systems are again in the difficult position of rationing supplies to meet the needs of those in the most dire situations, The New York Times reported. Adding to the dilemma is that not all the infusions and pills meant to treat people with COVID-19 even work well against the omicron variant.

In better news, a review of cases from 465 U.S. hospitals underscores the protection provided by COVID-19 vaccines.

The new review — by researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health — found that vaccinated adults who got breakthrough infections rarely got severely ill. Respiratory failure, the need for treatment in an intensive care unit, and death were also very rare.

The vast majority of U.S. school districts appear to be returning to in-person learning, but other large school systems including those in Newark, New Jersey, Milwaukee and Cleveland have gone back to remote learning as infections soar and sideline staff members. Dozens of smaller districts have followed, including many around Detroit, Chicago and Washington.

The disruptions also raise alarms about risks to students. Long stretches of remote learning over the last two years have taken a toll, leaving many kids with academic and mental health setbacks that experts are still trying to understand.

Governors took sweeping actions during earlier surges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many closed schools and ordered businesses shut down. They issued mask mandates, vaccine requirements and even quarantines in some places for people who had traveled to out-of-state hot spots.

Not this time, even as the exponential spread of the super-contagious omicron variant shatters COVID-19 infection records. While governors are sending help to hospitals, they are displaying little appetite for widespread public orders or shutdowns.