Sixty-four million Medicare insured individuals, whether original or Advantage plan, now have the cost of tests covered by Medicare. They were left out when the government originally decided tests would be free to anyone whether insured or not. Medicare beneficiaries were not included in the insured category and therefore, were not covered.

Now a Medicare beneficiary can get a free over-the-counter (OTC) in-home test for free at pharmacies and participating stores. It is the first OTC product to ever be covered by Medicare at no cost to the covered individual. The concern was that seniors on a limited income would skip getting tested due to the cost.

Medicare beneficiaries can now have a doctor prescribe a PCR test at no cost to the individual at more than 20,000 testing sites country-wide. They are also eligible for one free PCR test without a prescription.  And, Medicare beneficiaries are also entitled to the free tests that can be ordered at and delivered to their home via USPS.

By the time you are reading this, Congress will have returned to work in Washington, D.C., from its break. There will likely be plenty of discussion and dissection of the Biden administration’s request for $10 billion package to further fund Covid-19. The original request was for $22.5 billion.

Compromise and adjustments were made to that original amount to arrive at the current $10 billion funding request. And, then they got the heck out of dodge without voting. Meanwhile, uninsured individuals have been footing the cost of their tests, treatments and vaccinations.

The more than 50 percent reduction in the requested funds means some things won’t get funded. States are currently receiving fewer doses than they are requesting as the administration attempts to serve everyone as best possible. On-hand supplies are running low and could run out soon, depending upon the demand.

With lesser funds, the government’s restocking purchase of supplies will be smaller. The Astra Zeneca preventative treatment supply will be reduced as one example. Research and development will also be cut.

Research and development is why we have vaccines and treatments available today. It will impact the ability to continue to research the current variants and their impact as well as any new ones that result from the mutating of the virus in its quest for survival.

Currently the variants circulating and causing infections and deaths are less lethal than prior mutations. However, each variant has been found to have an increased transmissibility as its predecessors. The concern is to be able to monitor for any new mutations that have a higher lethality to them. I’m in favor of keeping the scientists and their research on the front edge detecting any indication that new variants are more deadly. How about you?

Recently a judge ruled that masks are not required on airplanes and public transportation eliminating the mask mandate. An appeal has been announced. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has asked the U.S. Justice Department to look at the judge’s ruling that invalidated the mask mandate.

The CDC maintains that mask mandates are in their wheelhouse. Their ongoing monitoring of the virus, they maintain, makes them the best equipped for making masking mandate recommendations. Their recommendations are based upon data that permits them to make forecasts of hot spots and surges of any current, and future, virus variants.

Meanwhile, airlines have lifted their masking requirements. So fly mask free if that is your choice. However, travelers should be aware that they may have to wear a mask when they arrive at their destination. Planning ahead is advisable. Passengers should also be aware that the FAA is still observing their no tolerance policy for altercations of any degree. In other words, don’t be that person. Don’t say anything if you can’t say something nice as my mother puts it.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has stated that catching the virus from flying is very low. However, the statement was made using data collected during the mask mandate period. Yet, the filtration system on airplanes is highly effective in reducing the risk of becoming infected in flight.

With 85 percent of respondents stating they plan to travel this summer it gives us a couple of things to think consider. Testing positive while traveling is a possibility, so preparing to know what to do is recommended. Travel is already up with 2.3 million passing through TSA checkpoints on April 10. That total is nearly the same as in 2019 before the pandemic came to our country.

Some things to consider if you will be traveling by plane this summer include knowing what is expected of you by the airlines. Will you need to provide proof of a negative test before flying? Not if your destination is here in the U.S. However, if you are traveling out of the country, you will need a negative test within one day of your departure flight. In some cases if someone has recovered from Covid-19 in the previous 90 days taking a test won’t be necessary.

If you test positive the day before you are to return home what will you do? Some countries have “quarantine hotels” for infected people. The cost of staying there is upon the infected individuals so be prepared for additional funds needed as a precaution. Some travel insurance may cover some of the cost, but you need to shop around for the travel policy that best fits your needs and ask specific questions about coverage they provide.

Be prepared to notify the airline, the hotel or other lodging you used while visiting, parks, venues, and restaurants, to name a few that you have tested positive if there isn’t a system in place that will do it for you. Of course, you don’t have to make the notifications, but it would be the right thing to do to permit further notifications to others who may have come in contact and possibly infected by you unknowingly.

If you are traveling within the U.S. you do not have to provide a negative test result to fly. With masking no longer required, the risk factor goes up a little more. Each traveler needs to assess their personal risk when traveling and decide what steps they will take, if any, to protect themselves.

I encourage you to give some thought to what you might need or do if you become infected while on vacation or should you have someone come to visit you who is infected. Being prepared can provide some peace of mind and allow you to truly enjoy that much needed time away.

Rhonda Bletsh writes a weekly column, “Here to Help,” for The Madison County Record. She is not a doctor and the opinions in this column are her own. She welcomes responses by reaching her at