Government Seeking More Rapid COVID-19 Tests

February 5, 2021 – The Biden administration is pushing to make rapid home tests for COVID-19 available to more Americans.

During a media call on Friday, Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior advisor on pandemic response, told reporters that the administration was working with six companies to increase manufacturing of home test kits “in the goal, by the summer, to have millions. of Americans can access testing at home. “

So far, the plan lacks details. He didn’t name the companies or the tests, but said more announcements would be announced shortly.

“Home testing is one of the key steps in getting back to normal life,” Slavitt said.

As the United States waits for vaccines to quell the pandemic, experts say an important way to control the virus and completely reopen the economy could be to use quick and inexpensive paper-strip tests to find people who could spread COVID-19.

The tests use saliva or a swab from the inside of the nose, mixed with a little solution. Users put the solution down on a strip of paper, much like home pregnancy tests work.

The tests use proteins embedded in the paper to recognize and capture key parts of the virus. When the virus is detected, another indicator – such as a line or a plus sign – changes color to show the result.

Since the tests hang on to a part of the coronavirus that doesn’t mutate, they should still work well to detect even new variant forms of the virus.

Regulators were reluctant to approve them because they have a higher false negative rate, compared to benchmark PCR tests, which are performed in a lab.

Instead, results are more accurate when a person has a lot of the virus circulating in their body, usually a day or two before they start showing symptoms until a few days after getting sick.

While this may make them less reliable in diagnosing a COVID-19 infection in someone who has been sick or carrying the virus for some time, testing experts say it makes them useful as screening tools – one way catch contagious people. and isolate them before they can spread the virus.

Michael Mina, PhD, assistant professor at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard and expert in diagnostic testing, has been a strong supporter of rapid tests to control the spread of the virus. He said he had taken no funding from any testing company, although he had spoken to many of them about their technologies.

“This test is as powerful as it is because it will find you when you are positive. It won’t tell you you were positive 2 weeks ago, like the PCR will tell you you were positive 2 weeks ago, ”he said,“ And he will give it to you in a time when it will be. possible to act, in 15 minutes. “

Mina says that if the tests are cheap enough, people can test themselves before going to work, two to three times a week, for example, to find out when to stay home so they don’t run the risk of infect their co-workers. The tests could be used at the entrances to sports arenas, concerts and airports to help catch people who are contagious and who may not know it because they are not showing any symptoms.

He said the strategy many people are trying to use now – test themselves a few days before traveling or visiting family – “is unnecessary, and I cannot say enough about it. It’s an unnecessary waste of money, ”he said on a call to reporters on Friday.

“The best thing you can do is test yourself the moment right before entering anything, be it work, school, event or grocery shopping, whatever it is,” he says. he.

The success of a plan like this depends on having lots of quick tests and making them cheap enough that people can use them regularly.

Slavitt said the United States is on track to meet this target.

In addition to the new tests announced on Friday, Slavitt said the United States will work with an Australian company called Ellume to deliver 8.5 million of their tests to Americans by the end of the year. This test uses a device that connects to a smartphone app to give people test results in about 15 minutes. It can also connect to public health reporting systems to help health authorities track positive cases.

Mina said he doesn’t think the Ellume test can be an effective screening tool. On the one hand, its price can put it out of reach for regular use. When cleared in December, the company said the kit for taking the test would cost around $ 30, which is too expensive for individuals and businesses to use frequently. Mina said the amount ordered by the United States would only amount to about 3,000 tests per day, not nearly the millions of daily tests that the United States would have to use for some time to control the spread of the virus.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “We wasted money on it. It is a total waste of money.

So far, the FDA has refused to approve other rapid tests for home use, saying their results so far have not been precise enough to meet the agency’s standards for diagnostic testing.

Mina says if the rules were looser, the FDA could approve several new tests and pass them on to Americans very quickly.

“I don’t think waiting for summer is a good thing,” he said on a phone call with reporters on Friday. “I’m encouraged that the administration is currently taking several steps to try to signal that they are going to push for faster access to tests, but I think we have those tests ahead of us right now. We just need to listen to the science a little more. “

WebMD Health News


Andy Slavitt, White House Senior Advisor on Pandemic Response, Washington, DC.

Michael Mina, PhD, Assistant Professor, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Cambridge, MA.

White House COVID response team press briefing, February 5, 2021.

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