On August 27, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany released an official statement that the Trump administration had signed a $760 million deal to purchase 150 million rapid COVID-19 tests from Abbott Laboratories. These tests will allow millions of Americans to get almost-instant COVID-19 test results and may help slow the spread of the virus.
Helping Society Return to “Normal”
Abbott Laboratories’ Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Point of Care SARS-CoV-2 (BinaxNOW) processes coronavirus antigens without the use of expensive machinery, providing test results in 15 minutes or less. The company aims to produce tens of millions of these rapid COVID-19 tests in September and 50 million each month starting in October. The firsts batches of these tests will most likely be shipped to schools or other high-risk communities.
John Hackett, the project’s lead scientist at Abbott explained that “This project was built around the concept: What do we need to start to move our society back to normal?” in an interview with Alexis C. Madrigal of The Atlantic. “How do we get people back to work? How do we ensure these workforces will be as safe as possible? How do we get people back to school? That was the goal,” he continued.
Concerns Surrounding Rapid COVID-19 Tests
The test’s release coincides with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) emergency use authorization of the BinaxNOW technology. Though these rapid COVID-19 tests provide quick results, experts have raised questions over the sensitivity of the tests, following Abbott’s recent ID Now controversy, and the limitations of BinaxNOW diagnoses. Some have expressed concern that the test is not accurate enough to be useful and may produce false positives. Others are concerned about the BinaxNOW’s ability to only diagnose those whose onset of COVID-19 symptoms began within the week before the test was administered.
Regarding these claims, Hackett clarified, “The more frequently you could test people, frankly, even tests with lower sensitivity would be very effective at identifying people quickly and slowing the spread.”
Rapid COVID-19 Tests Moving Forward
Hackett also mentioned at several points throughout the interview that the BinaxNOW is the first step of many towards finding the most accurate and effective testing methods for COVID-19. The company plans to expand its line of rapid COVID-19 tests to include those to be used for screening, or testing without symptoms present, and possibly to at-home testing kits.
“When you think about going to home testing, there are a lot of factors involved,” Hackett explained. “This test is very easy to use; there’s no question. But you’d have to worry about how people store them. Are they sitting in their hot car? This test will be a major step, but we do have to continue to explore others.”
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