NEW YORK – President Biden on Thursday announced a COVID-19 Action Plan that includes initiatives to increase the amount of testing available across the country.
The testing and masking portion of the action plan — which also discusses vaccination mandates, economic recovery, and improving COVID-19 patient care — is largely focused on rapid point-of-care and at-home testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Biden said he will use the Defense Production Act to further accelerate production of rapid tests. The federal government will procure 280 million tests from multiple manufacturers to "ensure a broad, sustained industrial capacity for COVID-19 test manufacturing," according to the plan.
The tests will be available for long-term care facilities, community testing sites, shelters for unhoused people, prisons and jails, and other vulnerable populations and congregate settings. The increase in manufacturing will also provide for adequate stockpiles of tests and the ability to surge additional manufacturing in the future if necessary, the White House said.
In addition, retailers including Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger will sell rapid tests at-cost for the next three months, allowing people to buy the tests for up to 35 percent less than current pricing, the White House said. Medicaid is also required to cover at-home tests for free for beneficiaries. The plan noted that states should make sure that "any tools they use to manage at-home testing do not establish arbitrary barriers for people seeking care."
The White House said it will send 25 million free at-home rapid tests to 1,400 community health centers and hundreds of food banks so people can access the tests regardless of income. It will also expand the number of retail pharmacy sites where anyone can get tested through the US Department of Health and Human Services' free testing program to 10,000 pharmacies.
Stakeholders across the diagnostics industry have applauded the President's plan to expand testing. In a statement from the American Clinical Lab Association, ACLA President Julie Khani said the announcement "takes important steps towards boosting access to COVID-19 testing" and noted that the group is committed to working with the Biden administration "to turn the corner on the pandemic."
Khani added that the organization "strongly supports efforts to fully leverage the broad range of high- quality molecular, antigen, serology, and T-cell tests available in laboratory, point-of-care, and over-the-counter settings." She said that ACLA members "stand ready to support these efforts and ensure the widespread availability of these critical tests."
AdvaMed also released a statement supporting the plan, with President and CEO Scott Whitaker saying the association looks forward to working with the administration "to further extend the reach of quality testing, strengthening our public-private collaboration and coordination."
Earlier this month, ACLA and AdvaMed sent a letter to the White House with recommendations for furthering access to testing. Those recommendations included expanding specimen collection and testing sites; formalizing a forum for communication between the administration and diagnostic manufacturers and laboratories; and developing forward- looking policy and ensuring the availability of testing based on pandemic modeling to strategize how labs and manufacturers can support testing needs.
The organizations also recommended leveraging the Strategic National Stockpile to bolster test capacity; ensuring the US Centers for Disease Control contracts directly with labs to retain necessary supplies to surge capacity when needed; providing consistent information to states about testing; allowing states flexibility to modify testing plans; extending the public health emergency; and making CDC's studies on serology and antibody testing public to understand the immune response to COVID-19 vaccines.