CVS Health has slowly dropped the age minimum at its 1,944 drive-through testing sites across the country. The pharmacies initially accepted only adult patients but dropped the age minimum to 16 in August, and are in the process of lowering it to 12 this month.
“Because we use self-administered swabs, we’ve been evolving our testing protocols as we learn more about what’s possible,” said William Durling, a CVS spokesman. “Twelve years old is the age that our team felt a child could likely swab themselves.”
Early in the pandemic, public health officials were not focused on children as an at-risk population, given how few ended up hospitalized for the virus. Some scientists even thought that children might be safe from coronavirus infection altogether.
But now, with schools underway, and with evidence of childhood infection more established, the testing infrastructure for children in many communities has major holes. Nir Menachemi, a professor of health policy and management at Indiana University, called it a blind spot that was interfering with school reopening plans and with efforts to understand how the virus was spreading.
“Having a blind spot makes you not able to respond from a public health perspective, either with the correct messaging or with the right policies to put into place to protect the people who are vulnerable,” he said.
When Christine Carter’s 5-year-old son, West, was experiencing a fever and vomiting, she worried it might be coronavirus. But her pediatrician’s office said it did those tests only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and all appointments that week had already been booked.
“By the time I was going to be able to get him tested, he’d already have been a week into having it,” said Ms. Carter, who lives outside Baltimore. “It turned out to be an allergic reaction, but if I do really need to get him tested in the future, I fear the process will be really lengthy.”