Promise: “Double the number of drive-through test sites, invest in next-generation testing, including home testing and instant testing, so we can increase our testing capacity by orders of magnitude.”
Before vaccinations were widespread, Covid-19 tests were considered one of the few tools to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Because of this, then-candidate Joe Biden promised during the 2020 presidential campaign to increase the United States’ testing capacity to “defeat Covid-19”.
In particular, Biden’s campaign website promised that if he chose, he would “double the number of drive-through test locations” and “invest in next-generation testing, including home testing and instant testing, so we can increase our testing capacity.” orders of magnitude. “
KHN teamed up with our partners at PolitiFact to analyze Biden’s pledge during the 2020 presidential campaign. Now that Biden has been president for nearly five months, we’ve checked how he’s fared on this case. Experts say the testing capacity has improved. At the same time, test demand has declined, and part of Biden’s promise – to double the number of drive-thru test locations – is harder to pin down.
In February, about a month after he took office, his government announced at a press conference that it would invest more than $ 1.6 billion in Covid testing. These funds would, among other things, expand tests in schools and other community facilities, increase the domestic production of testing supplies, and help track Covid variants through genetic sequencing.
Then Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which successfully went through both houses of Congress in March, also provided funding specifically to expand the testing.
On March 17, the Department of Health and Welfare announced that $ 10 billion from that bill would be used for screening and testing to reopen schools and $ 2.25 billion to expand testing in underserved areas Population groups as well as for the provision of new guidelines. In May, an additional $ 4.8 billion was set aside to reimburse healthcare providers for testing uninsured people for the coronavirus.
Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the organization that represents state health officials, said states have started drawing their funds from the American rescue plan and planning how tests will be done to help To help schools conduct classes in person in the fall.
However, it is unclear whether Biden managed to double the number of drive-thru test locations. KHN and PolitiFact asked various test experts for their opinion, generally saying they were unaware of any data showing that the number of websites had doubled. However, some suspected that this may be because many public health resources were being shifted from test sites to staff and vaccination sites were set up as soon as Covid vaccines became available to the public.
“I think states have shifted their efforts to vaccination because that was the move in the spring,” said Plescia. But as more people got vaccinated, demand fell, and “if we had these drive-thru testing sites, we ended up closing them,” he added. “It was a promise that we didn’t have to keep in the end.”
In fact, there have been reports of closed test sites in the United States. In Florida, all 27 state test sites were closed at the end of May. Oklahoma also recently closed a mass test site when demand dropped to less than 50 tests a day, and in late May, New Jersey closed the state’s first outdoor test site.
The Testing Tracker from Johns Hopkins University shows that test demand in the US has decreased significantly. About 2 million tests were performed in one day in January. In May that number dropped to about 850,000. That decline came at the same time as the number of Americans vaccinated increased and Covid cases and deaths decreased.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently recommended that vaccinated people who have been exposed to someone with Covid no longer need to be tested if they are asymptomatic, and that vaccinated people can be excluded from workplace testing in most cases .
However, Plescia believes that if future outbreaks occur in certain areas and more testing is required, states will be able to meet the need. Mainly because of the increased availability of home tests – another focus of Biden.
So far, the administration has contracted several private companies to ensure the production and distribution of rapid Covid tests and tests at home.
Ellume, an Australian diagnostics company, was the first to receive emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a home test. In February, the Department of Defense announced it had granted Ellume nearly $ 232 million to build a U.S. factory and increase home test production. The contract also includes the allocation of 8.5 million home tests to the federal government, which must be made available by the end of 2021.
Another diagnostics company, Abbott, received significant funding from the federal government for testing during both Biden and Trump’s administrations. In March, HHS announced that Abbott had won a contract to supply 50 million of its rapid point-of-care tests to long-term care facilities.
There are currently five FDA approved over-the-counter emergency home tests. In addition to the Ellume and Abbott tests, which give results at home in 15 minutes, a Labcorp test is also available over-the-counter, but the results take a day or two.
The rise in supply and decline in demand could mean that some testing efforts originally envisaged by the Biden administration may not go ahead and the US may never get to an increase in testing on a “larger scale,” said Josh Michaud, assistant director for global health policy at KFF, wrote in an email.
Overall, however, despite the number of closed drive-thru or mass test sites, there is now greater availability of Covid tests. The Biden government has also allocated significant funding for testing, although some of it has been diverted.
“In general, I think tests are much better,” wrote Jeffrey Schlegelmilch, director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, in an email. “There are more accessible options and waiting times for results seem much faster. … There are also more resources available for state and local health authorities to conduct tests. So I would qualify this as a promise kept. “
We also. We see this as a promise kept.
The Associated Press, “OU Health Shuts Down Public Coronavirus Testing When Demand Has Fall,” May 27, 2021
Bradenton Herald, “Government-run COVID test sites will be closed until May 28th. Locations in Manatee, Sarasota will be closed on Saturday, ”May 12, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Preliminary Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People,” May 28, 2021
CNBC, “Biden Administration Invests Over $ 1.6 Billion To Expand Covid Testing And Sequencing,” February 17, 2021
CVS Health, “Over-the-Counter COVID-19 Tests Now Available at CVS Pharmacy,” April 19, 2021
Department of Defense, “DOD Awards $ 231.8 Million Contract to Ellume USA LLC to Increase Domestic Manufacturing Capacity and Deliver COVID-19 Home Tests,” February 1, 2021
Department of Health and Human Services, “Biden Administration Announces Measures to Expand COVID-19 Tests,” February 17, 2021
Department of Health and Human Services, “Biden Administration Invests More Than $ 12 Billion in Expanding COVID-19 Testing,” March 17, 2021
Department of Health and Human Services, “HHS Provides $ 4.8 Billion to US Rescue Plan for COVID-19 Tests for Uninsured People,” May 25, 2021
Email exchange with Aly Morici, Director of Public Affairs at Abbott, June 7, 2021
Email interview with Jeffrey Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, June 7, 2021
Email interview with Josh Michaud, Assistant Director of Global Health Policy at KFF, June 4, 2021
FierceBiotech.com, “CVS, Walgreens Begin Rolling Out Over-the-Counter COVID Testing From Abbott, Ellume, and More,” April 19, 2021
Food and Drug Administration, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: June 8, 2021, June 8, 2021
Healthline, “COVID-19 Rapid Tests Now Available In Pharmacies: What You Should Know,” April 22, 2021
Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Tracker, Daily State-by-State Testing Trends, accessed June 8, 2021
KHN, “Supported with millions in public and private money, rapid Covid tests are coming to stores near you,” April 1, 2021
Patch.com, “COVID-19 Testing Site in Hoboken Closed After 60,000 Tests,” May 21, 2021
Telephone interview with Gigi Gronvall, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, June 8, 2021
Telephone interview with Dr. Marcus Plescia, Chief Medical Officer of the Association for State and Territorial Health Officials, June 8, 2021
Telephone interview with Dr. Leana Wen, Visiting Professor of Health Policy and Management at George Washington University, June 8, 2021
Politico, “Biden Admin directs billions of emergency supplies, Covid funds to Border Crunch”, April 15, 2021
The Wayback Machine, JoeBiden.com/covid19/, accessed June 9, 2021
The White House, press conference by the White House COVID-19 Response Team and public health officials, February 17, 2021
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health topics. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a non-profit foundation that provides the country with information on health issues.
This story can be republished for free (details).