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A passer-by walks past a sign that calls attention to COVID-19 testing while departing a Walgreens pharmacy, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, in New Bedford, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Why aren’t we paying more attention to the experience of other countries in responding to COVID-19? There is no particular country that has the answer to controlling the pandemic — unless you accept the implausible statistics from China, which claims to have only a few cases of the omicron variant in a country of 1.4 billion.

But the U.S., the world’s hardest-hit country by COVID-19 in absolute terms, seems to ignore effective measures that other countries have taken to mitigate the pandemic. To our detriment, this includes efforts to make 15-minute at-home antigen tests widely available, a coherent vaccine policy and monitoring of indoor ventilation.

Many European and Asian countries have been employing rapid COVID-19 testing for over a year. These tests are not a precise diagnostic tool or a panacea, but they are quick, doable at home and reasonably accurate for identifying people who are infected, especially with repeated testing. Negative tests allow for small gatherings and safer travel. Positive tests help break potential contagion chains because a person can isolate afterward. These tests have been shown to reduce the number of infections in other countries.

Yet it wasn’t until December that President Joe Biden made it a priority for the federal government to purchase 500 million COVID-19 rapid tests for home distribution (and those tests may not be readily available for weeks.) According to Vanity Fair, the administration rejected a plan in October to distribute free home tests. Biden has denied the report.

“It’s undeniable that (the administration) took a vaccine-only approach,” said rapid testing advocate Dr. Michael Mina, as reported by Vanity Fair. It “didn’t support the notion of testing as a proper mitigation tool,” said Mina, who attended the October White House meeting.

Why would the Biden administration and its public health infrastructure not embrace rapid testing? In retrospect, the testing miscalculation was part of an overly optimistic view that declining cases in early summer heralded a waning pandemic. The delay was also the result of the emphasis since early 2020 on having the medical community determine when and whom to test, as well as the desire for a level of federal regulation of testing that is greater than in other countries.

However understandable, this injected a level of bureaucracy when what we need is greater efficiency.

With the emergence of omicron, the administration has backtracked, but Americans still are waiting in line or are paying exorbitant prices — if they can find home tests at all. The United Kingdom is using rapid tests to indicate whether a person is still contagious after contracting COVID-19 and to help guide isolation time.

Here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has controversially shortened the isolation time for those who test positive but are asymptomatic — without recommending rapid testing for coming out of isolation.

Regarding vaccine policy, some officials at the Food and Drug Administration minimized the vaccine experience in Israel, resulting in U.S. booster recommendations being adopted belatedly.

Israel has the earliest experience with vaccine distribution and documented that people receiving the vaccines demonstrated waning immunity as early as three months afterward. This was its rationale for a booster rollout for the general population (and current testing of a second booster strategy). Skepticism about Israeli data and disagreement between FDA scientists and policymakers in the Biden administration resulted in confusion and delay in administering boosters here.

Another area in which COVID-19 experience in other countries has been virtually ignored is the importance of proper ventilation for indoor activities because the airborne coronavirus is frequently transmitted in poorly ventilated rooms. The engineering community has highlighted this, and the CDC does mention ventilation as part of its COVID-19 “mitigation toolbox.” But there has been virtually no emphasis or public communication on the inexpensive method to detect whether a room has adequate ventilation, which is widely used in Europe and Asia: carbon dioxide monitors.

Carbon dioxide monitors, not to be confused with carbon monoxide detectors, measure and display the level of the carbon dioxide we exhale. The carbon dioxide level is an indirect indicator of how well air is circulating in a room. Room air is circulating adequately when the carbon dioxide level is low; when the carbon dioxide level is high, a window should be opened or a fan should be turned on.

The British government has subsidized carbon dioxide monitors for state-funded schools. These monitors are commonplace in commercial buildings and public venues in Europe and Japan. In places such as theaters, levels are prominently displayed on large screens informing people of the ventilation status where they are, as others enter and leave. In the U. S.? Crickets.

At this juncture, there is little to be gained by rehashing mistakes and apportioning blame. The pandemic is a global problem and far from over. Much still can be learned from other countries’ experience, good and bad.

The stubborn insistence of some politicians and public health experts on relying simply on what happens in the U.S. recalls the memorable line from the 2007 film “No Country for Old Men,” in which the villain asks his victims before dispatching them: “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”

Dr. Cory Franklin is a retired intensive care physician. Dr. Robert A. Weinstein is an infectious disease specialist at Rush University Medical Center.

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