U.S. Funds to Boost Supply of Rapid At-Home COVID-19 Tests

COVID-19 At-home testing
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The White House announced a billion-dollar investment in at-home COVID-19 testing during a briefing held on October 6, 2021. The funds are expected to significantly boost the availability of at-home tests for Americans and to increase production by manufacturers that have struggled recently to keep up with demand.

At-home COVID-19 testing is one of the critical elements of the Biden Administration’s strategy for ending the pandemic in the U.S. Widespread testing can help identify infected individuals so they can take steps that will help stop the spread of the virus, such as staying home and self-isolating. However, this strategy will work only if tests are readily available to those who should be tested. This includes people with signs and symptoms of COVID-19 as well as those who have been exposed to infected individuals, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated. 

Many Americans are expected to undergo repeated testing over the next few months as they work outside the home, attend schools and colleges, visit public places, and especially as they travel over the year-end holiday season. The funds earmarked for increasing the supply of at-home COVID-19 tests are intended to meet this anticipated demand in the coming fall and winter months.

The federal government has committed to purchasing millions of tests, which encourages manufacturers to further ramp up production. Two companies, Quidel and Orasure, have agreed to speed up production of their at-home testing kits. A third company, ACON laboratories, recently received authorization from the FDA for their new, over-the-counter, rapid antigen COVID-19 test, which will contribute to the growing number of available tests. Overall, tens of millions of at-home tests are expected to be ready for purchase and/or use over the next few months and into next year. 

Additionally, there are plans to expand access to free testing by increasing to 10,000 the number of pharmacies included in the federal government’s free COVID-19 testing program.    

At-home tests can be an affordable, convenient option for those who require COVID-19 testing, which may encourage some to get tested who might not otherwise. Rapid results from at-home tests can help people quickly learn whether they have COVID-19. Some at-home tests have apps that can automatically report results to public health officials, which helps track the pandemic. Even so, patients are recommended to share the results with a healthcare provider who can interpret them in the context of signs and symptoms and/or exposure to the virus.

Although convenient, at-home tests are generally not as accurate as testing performed in laboratories. The risk of getting a negative result when actually infected (false negative) or getting a positive result when not infected (false positive) is higher with at-home tests than with tests done in labs. Testing errors can occur, for example, if the sample is not collected properly or if the testing steps are not done exactly according to instructions. Results of at-home tests may need confirmatory testing, especially if the results don’t fit with the signs and symptoms and/or medical history.

Even with these drawbacks, at-home COVID-19 tests can help increase testing rates. Along with vaccines and boosters, the federal government is banking on widespread rapid at-home testing to slow and eventually end the pandemic.

Sources

Press Briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team and Public Health Officials (October 6, 2021). Accessed October 8, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2021/10/06/press-briefing-by-white-house-covid-19-response-team-and-public-health-officials-60/

Carl O’Donnell (August 27, 2021) U.S. COVID-19 tests again in short supply as infections soar, schools reopen. Reuters. Accessed October 8, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-covid-19-tests-again-short-supply-infections-soar-schools-reopen-2021-08-27/

Food and Drug Administration Press Release (October 4, 2021). Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Additional OTC Home Test to Increase Access to Rapid Testing for Consumers. Accessed October 8, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-authorizes-additional-otc-home-test-increase-access-rapid-testing

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Updated Oct. 4, 2021). COVID-19 Self-Testing. Accessed October 8, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/self-testing.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Updated Oct. 4, 2021). Testing for COVID-19. Accessed October 8, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/index.html

Department of Health and Human Services (August 17, 2021). Community-Based Testing Sites for COVID-19. Accessed October 8, 2021. https://www.hhs.gov/coronavirus/community-based-testing-sites/index.html