NEW YORK – The White House announced new steps to increase access to COVID-19 tests on Thursday, including the purchase of 100 million additional at-home tests.
The administration is purchasing at-home rapid tests from domestic manufacturers to bolster the Strategic National Stockpile, which it said in a statement will "help meet some testing needs in the months ahead and will put us in a better position to manage a potential increase in testing demand this fall and winter." In its statement, though, it noted that the purchase is "insufficient to adequately replenish our existing stockpile of at-home tests."
Last month, the administration said it would no longer provide free COVID-19 antigen tests to the public, citing a lack of new funding from Congress. That move, as well as other steps by the administration indicating it would be leaving COVID-19 testing to the commercial space, has some healthcare experts and advocates concerned.
The National Institutes of Health's Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Tech program and the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response are also launching a telehealth Test to Treat pilot program to expand access to the sites. The program will partner with state, local, tribal, and territorial health departments to serve rural and high-risk communities, allowing people to get at-home tests delivered, consult a healthcare provider via telehealth, and have medications delivered to their homes. There are currently 2,800 Test to Treat sites, which provide tests, clinician visits, and prescriptions for treatment if patients test positive for COVID-19.
The White House also announced that the NIH's National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering is launching two new initiatives under the RADx Fast Track Program. One will "accelerate the development of at-home diagnostic technologies" to improve accessibility and ease of use for people with disabilities, it said. The other is intended to encourage development of next-generation COVID-19 diagnostics with improved performance.
The administration emphasized the need for more COVID-19 funding from Congress, noting that it sent a $22.4 billion request last week to meet short-term needs for testing, accelerate research and development of vaccines and therapeutics, and prepare for future surges and variants. The additional funding would also be used to transition procurement and distribution of vaccines, tests, and treatments to the commercial market, it said.