It’s about to get faster, easier and cheaper to get an at-home Covid-19 test, the Biden administration says. The administration is set to boost Covid-19 testing in the US by announcing an additional investment in at-home rapid tests.
White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced on Wednesday a $1 billion investment, which will go toward purchasing rapid at-home Covid-19 tests to put on the market.
“This means companies will be able to expand production of tests even further based on the United States government’s commitment to procuring an additional 180 million rapid tests over the course of the next year, with tens of millions more tests coming to market over the course of the next 30 days,” Zients said.
In September, President Joe Biden announced a $2 billion investment in rapid testing for community health centers, food bank and schools, and also announced that retailers including Walmart, Amazon and Kroger will sell at-home rapid test kits at cost for the next three months.
But demand has outpaced supply for those tests so far, with shelves empty across the country. The administration is seeking to quickly ramp up that supply.
The $1 billion announcement also comes days after the US Food and Drug Administration authorized Flowflex, an at-home antigen test from ACON laboratories, which will accelerate the pace of rapid tests hitting the shelves.
The Flowflex test authorization, the FDA said in a statement Monday, “should significantly increase the availability of rapid, at-home tests and is expected to double rapid at-home testing capacity in the U.S. over the next several weeks.”
While the US was previously on track to double the supply of rapid at-home tests available on the market each month by early November, Zients said the authorization of the ACON laboratories test “accelerates this pace and we are now on track to triple the number by early November.” The new commitments by manufacturers, he said, “puts us on track to quadruple the amount of at-home rapid tests available for Americans by December.”
Zients also said the administration will double the number of pharmacies where free Covid-19 testing is available. Biden committed in September to making free testing available at 10,000 pharmacies across the country.
“We’re on track to meet that goal in the coming weeks and today we’re doubling our commitment to a total of 20,000 local pharmacies,” Zients said.
The administration is working to increase US vaccinations, with 76% of the US population over 12 years of age having at least one vaccine dose as of Wednesday and that number growing as workplace mandates go into effect. But fast, easy, affordable testing remains a critical tool to getting the pandemic under control and curbing outbreaks.
There are several types of diagnostic tests, including antigen tests, which are generally faster and more affordable, and can be performed alone at home or with a virtual aide, or may be administered by a doctor or pharmacist. The “gold standard” of Covid-19 tests are rt-PCR tests, a type of nucleic acid amplification test, which are highly accurate and detect genetic material from the virus.
The current seven-day average of new tests is just over 1.7 million per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University Centers for Civic Impact, down from a January 2021 high of 2 million, but significantly increased from a July 2021 low seven-day weekly average of 492,000 new tests.
Former US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who led the agency under former President Donald Trump, acknowledged Wednesday that the Trump administration should have done more to build up US testing capacity in the first months of the pandemic.
“There was no ‘warp speed’ for diagnostics. You know, if we could do a rerun, we’d have a warp speed for diagnostics. That’d be our top priority,” Redfield said in an interview with SiriusXM Doctor Radio’s “Doctor Radio Reports.”
Redfield said that he and then-Covid-19 task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx began to understand in mid-February 2020 that Covid-19 was a “new virus” and that “asymptomatic spreads are going to be a problem and testing has gotta be the backbone of our strategy to try to control this epidemic.”
But the US, he said, “was always behind” in testing. Trump frequently lambasted US testing efforts, falsely claiming that more testing added Covid-19 cases to the total case count, amid concerns that could be used against him politically. “Cases, Cases, Cases! If we didn’t test so much and so successfully, we would have very few cases,” Trump said in one of many tweets on the matter.
Redfield suggested BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an office within the US Department of Health and Human Services, could have done more to stimulate the private sector into developing more testing and he was “disappointed” they did not do so.
“If we could rewrite this again, we needed Roche and we needed Abbott,” he said, referencing two health care companies, “and we needed the diagnostic companies on a Manhattan Project in January pouring out – literally, we should have been testing, you know, 5 million, 10 million tests a day,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Virginia Langmaid contributed to this report.