COVID-19

White House Rolls Out Plan to Increase Nationwide Rapid, Point-of-Care COVID-19 Testing

Much has changed since the spring when Abbott, LabCorp, Quest and other major COVID-19 testing labs were demobilizing their coronavirus infrastructure and pivoting to normal business. The surge of new COVID-19 delta variant cases has turned back the clock to the bad old days of the early pandemic and forced the hand of not only industry but government. Thus, in early September, President Biden announced a new action plan to combat the surge. And while the mandatory vaccination initiatives have garnered most of the attention, the Biden Path Out of the Pandemic plan includes provisions to expand and increase COVID-19 testing, both in the lab and at home. Here’s an overview of the plan and its impact on labs and the lab industry.

The 4 Key Parts of the Biden COVID-19 Testing Plan

The Biden plan is actually a combination of six comprehensive strategies for fighting the pandemic, returning the country to normal and providing for future public health emergencies. One of those strategies is dedicated to masking and testing. The latter proposes four sets of measures to promote widespread COVID-19 testing nationwide:

  1. Expand Production of Rapid COVID-19 Tests

As he did immediately upon taking office, the President has drawn on the federal government’s powers to mobilize private industry under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to step up production of COVID-19 tests and testing supplies. To ensure that the big test labs keep their foot on the COVID-19 production gas pedal, the administration plans to purchase nearly $2 billion worth of rapid point-of-care and over-the-counter at-home tests—280 million total tests—from multiple manufacturers. The tests will be made available to long-term care facilities, community testing sites, critical infrastructure, prisons and jails and other programs supporting vulnerable populations, as well as to create testing stockpiles for the future.

  1. Make At-Home COVID-19 Tests More Affordable

The plan calls for cooperating with private business to expand test access, with major retailers Walmart, Amazon and Kroger agreeing to sell at-home rapid COVID-19 tests to consumers at cost for the next three months. The resulting price reduction of up to 35 percent, which are available in-store and online, will make tests more affordable. In addition, the government is mandating that states cover Medicaid cover at-home tests for free and not establish “arbitrary barriers” to those seeking care.

  1. Ensure Access to Free COVID-19 Tests

To ensure that people with low incomes can get free tests, the administration is sending 25 million free at-home rapid COVID-19 tests to 1,400 community health centers and hundreds of food banks across the country.

  1. Expand Free HHS Pharmacy Testing

The plan also calls for expanding the number of retail pharmacy sites around the country where anyone can get tested for free through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services free testing program to 10,000 pharmacies.

Lab Industry Response to Biden COVID-19 Testing Plan

The lab industry has come out strongly in support for the Biden plan. American Clinical Lab Association (ACLA) president Julie Khani issued a statement praising the plan for taking “important steps towards boosting access to COVID-19 testing . . . to help ensure Americans have readily available access to COVID-19 tests as part of return to work, school and daily life.”

Khani added that the ACLA “strongly supports efforts to fully leverage the broad range of high- quality molecular, antigen, serology, and T-cell tests available in laboratory, point-of-care, and over-the-counter settings.”

Takeaway

The administration’s recognition of the need for affordable point-of-care rapid COVID-19 testing and willingness to leverage federal government powers to serve it is certainly a welcome development. However, much more needs to be done to ensure the availability of testing in the short-, medium- and long-term. Perhaps the most immediate challenge is to resolve the supplies shortage that has bedeviled testing efforts from the beginning of the public health emergency. And while mobilizing industry capacity under the DPA is certainly necessary as a short-term response, what’s really needed is for the administration to heed the industry’s cry to use the powers of the federal government to support long-term planning and coordination between policy making and manufacturing for the remainder of the pandemic and beyond.

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