U.S. to send millions of rapid COVID-19 tests to states to support school reopening, other tasks

A swab to be used for testing novel coronavirus is seen in the supplies of Harborview Medical Center's home assessment team during preparations to visit the home of a person potentially exposed to novel coronavirus at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, U.S. February 29, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder

By Carl O’Donnell and Vishwadha Chander

(Reuters) – The U.S. government will send an “overwhelming majority” of the rapid COVID-19 tests it purchased from Abbott Laboratories last week to governors of states and territories to support school re-openings and other critical tasks, an administration official said at a press briefing.

Other top priorities for the newly purchased tests include day care centers, first responders, and “critical infrastructure,” said Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. government purchased 150 million rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 from Abbott in a roughly $750 million deal.

The portable tests can deliver results within 15 minutes and will sell for $5. They require no additional equipment, and can use a less invasive nasal swab than traditional lab tests.

Antigen tests are cheaper and faster than molecular diagnostic tests, but somewhat more likely to fail to identify positive cases of the virus than lab-based diagnostic tests.

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly pushed for schools to reopen, but most of the country’s largest school districts have said they would start the school year with online classes, as states across the country have battled a spike in cases over the summer.

Girior also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still supports testing asymptomatic individuals for COVID-19 who are prioritized by local health officials or in high risk populations. Last week, the CDC sparked outcry among many public health officials when it said testing some asymptomatic people may not be necessary.

The U.S. government has conducted 85 million COVID-19 tests so far with a positivity rate of just over 5%, Girior said. The mean turnaround time is 2.27 days.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)

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