NEW YORK – The White House COVID-19 Response Team announced on Wednesday that the Biden administration will provide $1.6 billion to expand and improve COVID-19 testing and genomic sequencing.
The US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Defense will spend $650 million to expand testing opportunities for schools kindergarten through eighth grade and underserved settings like homeless shelters.
The agency will also establish regional coordinating centers to identify laboratory testing capacity and match it to specific areas of need. The coordinating centers will partner with labs, including academic and commercial labs, to collect specimens, perform tests, and report results. Carole Johnson, the response team's supply coordinator, noted during a media briefing that testing can be difficult to implement in non-medical settings, so the coordinating centers will help bridge that gap.
HHS and DoD will also invest $815 million to build and surge domestic manufacturing of testing supplies, such as pipette tips, injected molded plastics to contain testing reagents, and nitrocellulose for point-of-care antigen tests.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, will invest almost $200 million to expand genomic sequencing for the virus and detect emerging variants. The money will increase sequencing threefold from 7,000 samples per week to about 25,000 per week, the White House said. With the increase, the CDC will be able to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants sooner, Johnson said. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency is scaling up sequencing every day and that reaching the 25,000-sample mark will not happen immediately.
Walensky said the agency is partnering with states, commercial laboratories, and academia to increase both the volume and geographic diversity of samples for sequencing. In addition to more samples, Walensky said the agency also needs the computational and analytic capacity to understand the information coming in.
Johnson added that the money will provide significant help in the short term but that it was "far from what's necessary" and will be a bridge until Congress passes President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Jeff Zients, the team's response coordinator, said scaling up testing via passage of the American Rescue Plan would double testing capacity and drive down cost per test.
The American Rescue Plan includes $50 billion to expand testing by providing funding to purchase rapid tests, expand laboratory capacity, and support schools and local governments in implementing regular testing. An additional $30 billion would be invested in the Disaster Relief Fund to provide supplies such as glass vials and testing reagents, and another $10 billion would be used to increase domestic manufacturing for pandemic supplies.
Upon entering office, Biden announced his National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, which said the federal government intended to expand the rapid testing supply, double test supplies, and increase testing capacity, along with increasing antigen and molecular testing manufacturing in the US, filling supply shortfalls, and expanding surveillance for virus hotspots and variants. The plan also created a national pandemic testing board to oversee the implementation of testing.
Earlier this month, the Response Team announced the administration is finalizing contracts with six undisclosed companies to increase domestic testing capability for at-home SARS-CoV-2 tests, which would lead to 61 million point-of-care or at-home tests by the end of the summer.