President Donald Trump on Monday announced plans to distribute millions of Abbott Laboratories' 15-minute COVID-19 tests in the coming weeks, a move aimed at expanding access and helping reopen schools that are seen as key to getting parents back to work.
The federal government will send out 6.5 million rapid tests to governors this week and expects to ship 100 million tests over the next several weeks, based on states' populations.
The White House will encourage states — which have ultimate discretion over how to deploy the tests — to use the tests to screen teachers, check symptomatic children to see if they have contracted the virus, or conduct baseline surveillance, Bloomberg News reported.
Trump said in a Rose Garden announcement that 50 million tests would be provided to help the most vulnerable Americans, with 18 million sent to nursing homes, 15 million to assisted living facilities, 10 million to home health and hospice care agencies, and nearly 1 million to historically Black colleges and universities and those associated with tribal nations.
Health and Human Services Assistant Sec. for Health Adm. Brett Giroir demonstrated the ease with which the nasal swab test can be administered.
The test has been lauded as a breakthrough by public health officials. A single-use device about the size of a credit card, the test provides results within just 15 minutes without using any laboratory equipment, so it can be administered almost anywhere.
The upcoming shipments come from an order of around 150 million BinaxNOW tests the federal government previously arranged to buy. The purchase from the U.S. represents almost all the tests Abbott plans to produce this year.
The move may help the administration counter criticism for its failure to put in place a coordinated, efficient testing effort like those that have helped Germany and South Korea control the pandemic as deaths in the United States passed 200,000. Adding to the confusion have been changing guidelines on testing that are sometimes at odds with the advice of public health officials and experts.
Abbott has said it would scale its production capacity to 50 million tests per month by October and that it could currently produce "tens of millions" of the tests, indicating it will take at least a few months for the tests to be fully distributed to states and territories.
Bloomberg News and Reuters contributed.
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