Biden promised 500 million tests, but Americans will have to wait

WASHINGTON – President Biden has promised Americans he will make 500 million coronavirus tests available free of charge, but help is at ...


WASHINGTON – President Biden has promised Americans he will make 500 million coronavirus tests available free of charge, but help is at least weeks away – if not more – for anxious Americans facing a wave of new cases of the virus .

Mr Biden’s administration has yet to sign a contract to purchase the tests, and the website to order them won’t open until January. Officials did not say how many tests people will be able to order or how quickly they will be shipped once they start to be available next month. Manufacturers say they are already producing tests as fast as they can.

As a candidate, Biden denounced the lack of testing under the Trump administration, saying in March 2020 that “the administration’s failure to test is colossal, and it is a failure of planning, of leadership and execution “. But the Omicron variant caught the White House off guard, as the president acknowledged, and cases have far exceeded the government’s ability to make testing available.

that of the president promise of half a billion tests on Tuesday was the centerpiece of a new aggressive testing effort, announced just days before Christmas, as Americans try to find the hard-to-find tests to find out if they are infected during the holiday season.

“It’s not a plan, it’s a hope,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who tracks testing trends. “If these tests take place in January and February, it might have an impact, but if they are spread over 10 to 12 months, I don’t know what kind of impact it’s going to have.

Contracts to purchase tests could be finalized as early as next week, officials said.

It’s unclear if test makers can now step up to produce an additional 500 million home tests – and when. John M. Koval, spokesperson for Abbott Laboratories, a leading manufacturer of rapid home antigen tests, said in an email that the company is seeing “unprecedented demand” for its tests, “and we are sending them quickly as well. as we can make them.

The company is running its manufacturing plants around the clock, investing in automation and hiring more workers, Koval said. Abbott will perform 70 million tests in January, he said, and “can scale significantly in the coming months.”

Ellume, an Australian manufacturer of a competing rapid test, said in a statement it “stands ready to meet increased demand” by providing the government with 8.5 million tests and opening a new manufacturing facility in Frederick, MD, in January. Once fully operational, this plant will produce 15 million tests per month.

The Biden plan faces competition from state and local officials who have beaten the president. In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan announced last month that his administration made available 500,000 Abbott home tests. Colorado started to distribute free home tests in October. Dozens of towns and villages Massachusetts are already sending free tests as part of a new statewide program.

Experts say the 500 million new tests are unlikely to be available at one time. Dr Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and former Harvard professor who has repeatedly called for increased use of the tests, said he expected them to be spread over two to three months.

“If this had started a long time ago, things might be a little different,” said Dr Mina, who recently became the scientific director of eMed, which distributes home tests. “But that’s where we are now, and we kind of have to face it.”

Home testing shortages are not unique to the United States. Headlines last week showed long lines for testing in Spain, Britain, Canada, Germany and Ireland.

The White House also noted that the government has increased other testing methods in recent months, including sending 50 million free tests to community health centers and helping hot spots.

By next week, a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be in New York City to help deliver 25,000 more of the most sensitive lab tests. The first mobile site opened in Queens on Wednesday, and two more will open Thursday in Flushing and East Elmhurst, New York officials said.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday that the 500 million tests are “the biggest purchase we’ve made to date.”

“It certainly represents an important commitment, a recognition by the President that we need to do more,” she said.

For Mr. Biden, the rush to address the lack of availability of testing draws an uncomfortable parallel to the Trump administration’s inability to deploy testing at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The Trump administration has battled supply shortages and a president who complained that testing increased workload reports and made him look bad.

Mr Biden took office promising to expand the supply of tests, but then focused his response almost exclusively on vaccines, and demand for tests fell so low that Abbott destroyed millions testing in August – just when the Delta variant was in full swing.

Lack of testing at the start of the pandemic blinded the government the early spread of the virus, a failure that contributed to the high number of casualties during the first wave of infection. At the time, Mr. Biden promised that as president it would form a pandemic testing committee – a play on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s War Production Board – and dramatically increase testing.

“Testing unequivocally saves lives, and widespread testing is the key to reopening our economy,” Biden said in June 2020.

Mr Biden’s administration kept those promises early in his tenure, helping states set up a network of drive-thru test sites aimed at spurring the development of rapid home tests. He created a testing committee, said White House officials, which is made up of officials from various government agencies. The Food and Drug Administration has stepped up the pace of home testing approval; now there are about a dozen available, compared to none when he took office.

But drive-through sites largely closed during the summer amid slumping demand as the pace of vaccinations accelerated and the number of cases declined. At that time, the CDC told vaccinated Americans that they did not need to be tested if they were exposed to the coronavirus but had no symptoms. The agency reversed this orientation in September.

The United States averaged 1.8 million tests per day at its peak in January, according to Johns Hopkins data, but by July of that year that number had dropped to 424,000, even as the Delta variant began to emerge. (The current average is 1.57 million tests per day.)

The destruction of Abbott’s tests in August came precisely as the administration should have been bracing for a fall and winter wave, Johns Hopkins’ Dr Nuzzo said.

“There was no forecast: ‘Well, what if the number of cases increases again? How are we going to rebuild the infrastructure that we have allowed to erode? ‘ She said, adding: “It was reasonable enough to expect that the cases could rise again.

After Omicron’s coup in late November, the president announced that private policyholders could be reimbursed for the purchase of home tests and pledged to provide 50 million rapid tests to community health centers.

Tuesday’s test announcement, which broadened that commitment, reflected how Omicron’s surge caught the White House off guard – as Mr Biden himself acknowledged when reporters took it. interviewed at the White House.

“What happened is that the Omicron virus has spread even faster than anyone thought,” Mr. Biden said. “If I had told you four weeks ago it would spread, day to day it would spread 50%, 100%, 200%, I think you would have looked at me and said, ‘Biden , what are you drinking? ‘”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden promised 500 million tests, but Americans will have to wait
Biden promised 500 million tests, but Americans will have to wait
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