The Trump administration will begin distributing a new rapid coronavirus test to governors in mid-September, allowing states to decide how to deploy them, testing chief Adm. Brett Giroir said Tuesday.
The administration is touting the new devices, which received emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week, as a major advance in the country’s testing capabilities, following months of delays and setbacks that have plagued the country’s response to the pandemic.
The federal government will purchase 150 million of the tests to deploy through the remainder of 2020, administration officials announced last week.
On Tuesday, Giroir provided more details on their deployment.
He said the “overwhelming majority” of tests would be provided to governors, allowing states to decide where and how to distribute them, rather than having the federal government decide.
Giroir noted that schools are one place governors could choose to deploy the tests. The federal government will ship some of the tests to assisted living facilities, he added, to expand testing that’s aimed at protecting the elderly, who are some of the most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
The $5 tests, from Abbott Laboratories, return results within 15 minutes and do not require a machine to process, allowing them to be deployed to places like schools.
An earlier rapid test from Abbott required a machine to read the results, making the new test, with no machine required, a step forward.
However, the new tests still require a health professional to administer them. Many health experts have been advocating for a cheap, rapid test that can be used by average Americans frequently at home.
Still, some of those advocates, like Harvard professor Michael Mina, have praised the planned deployment as a step in the right direction.
Giroir said Tuesday that even though the FDA has not approved the new test for use on asymptomatic people, the test could be used for that purpose. Products can be used beyond the uses the FDA has specifically approved through what is known as “off label” use, Giroir said.
The Trump administration has faced widespread criticism for an extremely slow initial rollout of testing at the beginning of the pandemic, and continuing problems, including long turnaround times for tests, that have persisted for months.
The administration also provoked a firestorm when it issued new testing guidance last week saying asymptomatic people do not need to be tested. Giroir argued Tuesday that the guidance does not preclude testing asymptomatic people at locations like schools if governors choose, noting the new guidelines provide exceptions for the judgment of local health officials.
While some progress is now being made, Giroir grew defensive on Tuesday’s press call when asked when everyone in the country would have access to frequent, cheap tests that can be conducted at home.
Giroir suggested that such a goal might not even be possible, though he said the administration is leaving “no stone unturned” in searching for new testing technologies.
“I don’t live in a utopian world,” he said.