U.S. Plans to Ship Abbott $5 Rapid Tests to States to Distribute

After purchasing 150 million new rapid Covid tests from Abbott Laboratories, the U.S. government plans to distribute “the overwhelming majority” to states, a top Trump administration official overseeing testing said.

Governors will be able to use the tests to help reopen schools and protect first responders, Brett Giroir told reporters. Distribution is to begin in mid-September, with states coping with natural disasters, such as Louisiana in the midst of hurricane season, first in line, he said.

Most will be shipped to governors, who can allot them “according to their distribution plans,” Giroir said. “We fully, fully want to support them in that.”

Abbott’s rapid tests will also be sent to assisted-living facilities, senior centers, home health staff and nursing homes for at-risk elderly individuals. They’ll be used to increase screenings for populations of color by way of historically Black colleges and universities and Native American tribes, Giroir said.

Giroir touched on a controversial recent change to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that said asymptomatic people don’t “necessarily need” to be tested for the virus, even if they’ve been exposed to someone with coronavirus or attended a gathering “without widespread mask wearing or physical distancing.”

Asymptomatic Testing

“Not only do we fully support and have provided guidance to test asymptomatic individuals, but we just bought 150 million tests” to support that, Giroir said.

The U.S. reported more than 6 million Covid-19 cases this week and 184,000 deaths. Hotspots continue to rage in 29 states, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, even as testing -- key to identifying cases and mitigating the new coronavirus’s spread -- has steadily declined since late July, to about 4.7 million tests a week in late August.

As Americans go back to work and school, rapid testing technology is expected to play a key role in staving off further spread, but it’s been in short supply except at nursing homes, where the federal government sent two earlier rapid tests.

Several states formed an alliance last month aimed at purchasing more than 3 million of the rapid antigen tests, in an effort they described as circumventing the federal government. An antigen is a viral protein, or a piece of one, that indicates the pathogen’s presence.

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The new Trump administration plan appears to be aimed at alleviating that rapid-testing crunch, while remaining in line with a longtime strategy of having localities lead on testing.

Abbott’s rapid BinaxNOW test, which was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration last week, is designed to give results within 15 minutes and doesn’t require laboratory equipment -- a major selling point after test-material shortages delayed results for other types of Covid-19 tests.

Giroir declined to provide further details of the plan, saying only that the tests would likely be sent directly to recipients and that distribution is being done in collaboration with the Department of Defense’s Defense Logistics Agency.

Ideally, “I would probably spend two months putting a bow around every plan before we announced it in the media,” he said. “But people’s lives are at stake. Their children need to go back to school.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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