President Biden publishes new US testing strategy

Newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden is pushing forward with a revitalised and stronger coronavirus testing strategy for the United States as he begins his presidential programme plans. The major cornerstones of his diagnostic approach are a $50 billion plan in investment and more federal oversight of testing activities. A newly created Pandemic Testing Board will channel its efforts through a ‘’clear, unified testing approach”. Laboratories have ramped up production to more than 2 million tests each day, but stubborn problems persist including the sourcing of materials in testing laboratory sites across the country.

Biden issued a flurry of executive orders Thursday, from mask mandates on federal property to reopening schools and accelerating vaccine shipments Ensuring the testing strategy gets back on track will be a key challenge moving forward. Lab capacity must be increased and there is an added layer of complication regarding the need for monitoring and genomic sequencing of potential variants of the virus appearing across the country. Rapid antigen tests will be ordered in larger quantities and data reporting of outbreaks and transmission levels needed to improve Government’s understanding of the current situation.

There is debate surrounding the use of rapid tests as a primary pillar of the pandemic response in the US. Only one rapid test, made by Australia-based Ellume, has gained U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorization for home use without a medical provider's prescription. Concerns around accuracy may complicate the picture, and laboratories must be supported in maintaining PCR testing as and when needed through the tackling persistent shortages in testing materials.

Biden’s plan calls for federal agencies to use the ‘Defense Production Act’ or other “appropriate authorities” to accelerate manufacturing of a dozen types of supplies: N95 masks, gowns, gloves, test swabs, reagents, plastic pipette tips, testing machines, swabs, needles and syringes, rapid test kits and material for rapid antigen tests. This is an order which the federal Government can use to compel private companies to produce critical supplies used in national defence or national emergencies. Experts are hoping that sending rapid tests that can be directly shipped to American homes, the tide could begin to turn on the spread of the virus.


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