Amid growing coronavirus cases, the leading U.S. testing official on Thursday announced another expansion of the country’s diagnostic efforts, highlighting the importance of testing that can be done outside the lab from start to finish.
The government will allocate an additional $ 550 million for community-based testing programs in all 50 states, Adm said. Brett Giroir, the Deputy Minister of Health. The government will also allocate $ 300 million to 60 million kits for distribution to nursing homes and other vulnerable communities.
Dr. Giroir predicted the country’s capacity for off-laboratory testing could more than double by June.
In a video livestream, Dr. Giroir has three new home test kits designed by Ellume, Abbott and Lucira Health that were recently given an emergency green light by the Food and Drug Administration. All can produce results within minutes of a quick nasal swab, although only Ellume’s product can be purchased without a prescription.
The Abbott and Ellume tests look for parts of coronavirus proteins called antigens. Lucira’s test, like most laboratory tests, looks for genetic material.
Dr. Giroir, who will resign on January 19 as part of the transition to the Biden administration, praised the tests as “demanding,” but warned that none were widely used. Production starts are underway, but could not change the market for a few months.
Ellume’s test, for example, although sold over the counter in a few weeks, will only be available in very limited quantities.
Experts have repeatedly pointed out that rapid tests are not as accurate or consistent as tests where people pass samples through a laboratory, where they are usually processed using a technique called a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR
Rapid tests, which can be done from start to finish in a few minutes, can stall more often, even in people with no symptoms. Even so, they are widely used – to frequently examine some populations such as nursing home residents and school children.
However, rapid tests usually have cost and convenience on their side – benefits Dr. Giroir has repeatedly underlined in an interview with reporters. He noted the slow and bumpy adoption of testing in the US, where quick test results are still a relative rarity.
Dr. Giroir said it was “not yet apparent” whether widespread home testing would be successful.
Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, said testing at home could streamline the testing process. People who feel sick can test themselves and determine in minutes if they need to isolate themselves or seek treatment.
However, outsourcing testing to the general public also carries risks.
For example, incorrect results can be more difficult to capture, interpret, and manipulate when people are testing themselves at home. False negatives can encourage people to mingle with others, which speeds up the spread of the virus, while false positives can unnecessarily keep people away from work or school.
And both types of errors could undermine public confidence in testing.
Dr. Butler-Wu also noted that if rapid test results are collected at home, they may not get to the right care providers and public health officials.
When the results aren’t reported correctly, she said, “You’re flying blind – you don’t know the prevalence in your community.”