Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall on Tuesday called for less COVID-19 testing and an end to tracking COVID-19 cases that don’t result in hospitalizations or deaths, as part of an effort to “learn to live” with a virus that has disrupted the country for two years.
In an op-ed for the conservative outlet The Daily Caller, Marshall suggested that people should only be tested for COVID-19 if it would affect a patient’s treatment plan, the way you might test for the flu or strep throat, and said the state and country should only keep track of people who are hospitalized or die from COVID-19, instead of keeping track of all cases.
“We must stop the obsession with COVID, stop living in fear and move forward,” Marshall wrote. “But first, the White House, CDC and national media will have to wean themselves off their fixation with eye-grabbing headlines that are causing Americans to live in fear.”
Marshall’s comments come at a difficult point in the pandemic — where the country is averaging more than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths a day amid the omicron variant surge, but health departments are charting a path toward treating the virus more like other diseases.
Last week, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced it would end contact tracing efforts by the end of the month as local health departments were overwhelmed by the number of cases and state officials have told schools they no longer need to contact trace.
Dennis Kriesel, the executive director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments said a lot of local health departments are ready to move in the direction Marshall is suggesting, where the virus is treated like other diseases.
“So endemic status is the inevitable end game, we can’t actually beat COVID so we’re going to have to live with it,” Kriesel said. “The question is just when do we make that transition?”
Kriesel said the state has been working on a plan for when health departments should begin treating COVID-19 like other diseases, which he says he expects will happen within the year. That would mean much of what Marshall is suggesting, where the virus is treated similarly to the flu, where tests and tracking are generally limited to people with severe illnesses.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Kansas has increased 61 percent over the past 14 days, according to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker and despite the fact that the omicron variant of the virus is considered more mild than earlier versions of the disease, the number of people hospitalized in Kansas is similar to last year’s winter surge.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily the right time to stop actually doing active case tracking, but the volume has been so much that we aren’t actually keeping up with it right now anyway,” Kriesel said.
Marshall, an obstetrician, has spent much of his first year in office pushing back on the federal government’s response to COVID-19, particularly taking issue with Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of President Joe Biden’s top advisers on the virus.
In the fall, Marshall unsuccessfully attempted to cut off funding for the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for businesses that employ more than 100 people. The mandate was paused by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it is still too soon to tell whether the omicron surge will allow the country to treat COVID-19 more like an endemic, citing the possibility of future variants, but said he believes the transition will happen.
Still, the administration has shifted its focus from defeating COVID to managing the virus. As omicron began surging, instead of announcing more restrictions, the administration focused their attention on making it easier for people to get an at-home treatment for the disease, which was approved by the FDA in December, and on making it easier for people to get at-home tests.