COVID notes: New rapid tests to go to schools
Baker says Mass. leads nation in coronavirus testing
MASSACHUSETTS EXPECTS to receive a limited number of new, rapid COVID-19 tests from the federal government, which state officials will use to support school reopenings, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday.
The new BinaxNOW test, developed by Abbott Labs, received emergency authorization from the FDA late last month. The test is a simple nasal swab – not the deep swab used in some other tests – that is conducted by a health care worker then put on a test card. It gives a result in 15 minutes, and the result can be uploaded to a patient’s mobile app. According to the company, it has high sensitivity and accuracy – above 97 percent.
The test is an antigen test, which means it detects proteins produced by the COVID-19 virus. Antigen tests are generally less accurate than PCR tests, which look for active genetic material of the virus, but they can produce results more quickly.
President Trump announced Monday that the federal government signed a $760 million contract with Abbott Labs to buy 150 million BinaxNOW tests. Of those, 100 million tests will be given to states and territories to support the reopening of schools and businesses – for example, to let a school district regularly test its teachers. Another 50 million tests will be distributed to particularly vulnerable communities, 15 million to assisted living facilities, 10 million for home health and hospice care agencies, and 1 million to historically black colleges and tribal colleges, Trump said.
Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health for the US Department of Health and Human Services, said at Trump’s press conference that of the 100 million tests that will eventually be sent to state governments, the first 6.5 million will go out this week.
“Governors have the flexibility to use these tests as they deem fit, but we strongly encourage governors to utilize them in settings that are uniquely in need of rapid, low-tech, point-of-care tests, like opening and keeping open our K-through-12 schools; supporting critical infrastructure and first responders; responding to outbreak, specifically in certain demographics or locations; and screening of surveillance in congregate settings,” Giroir said.
Baker, at a State House press conference on Tuesday, said the number of tests each state will receive depends on the size of their population. Massachusetts comprises around 2 percent of the US population, so could potentially get 2 million tests.
Baker said he anticipates Massachusetts getting its first allotment next week, and the tests will continue to come in “on a rolling basis.” Baker said state officials will work with schools to make sure that communities offering hybrid or in-person K-12 education have access to the tests, in addition to mobile testing units that the state is already making available to help districts in case of an outbreak.
Baker noted that the PCR tests still remain the “gold standard,” but he said antigen tests can be “helpful” and “appropriate.”
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said there are still logistical hurdles that need to be worked out with regard to administering the tests. For example, they need to be done by a trained clinician, and any test done on a child would need their parent’s permission.
Baker: Mass. tops in testing in US
He said the state has gone from conducting an average of 15,000 tests a day in May to 55,000 a day over the last few weeks.
Pushing back against epidemiologists worried about a rise in COVID-19 cases, Baker said the state is doing extensive testing, tracking down those who test positive or come in contact with someone who tests positive, and targeting help to those communities with the highest infection levels.
Baker often points to the state’s positive test rate (positive cases as a percent of all tests) of .9 percent, which is one of the lowest in the country. Measuring just new individuals who test positive yields a different number – 3.18 percent on Tuesday.
COVID reporting law had verbal caveats
Gov. Charlie Baker signed a COVID-19 reporting measure into law even though he knew his administration wouldn’t be able to come into compliance with the measure for several months.
Baker in June signed into law that required extensive reporting of all sorts of data on the spread of COVID-19. Shortly after signing the legislation, Baker sent a separate bill to the Legislature asking for the power to impose fines on those institutions that fail to provide the state with the data needed to comply with the law. That measure has not passed.Baker has come under fire occasionally for failing to provide the information required under the law he signed. On Tuesday at a State House press conference, Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said the administration told legislative leaders that the information sought by lawmakers would not be available immediately.
“We signed it with the clear understanding that it would take three to four months to put the systems in place to provide all the data elements that the Legislature requested,” she said.