A month after the White Home guarantees, entry to testing and tools remains to be lagging behind – TechCrunch
A month after President Trump declared a national emergency and announced pledges from some of the largest companies in the country to expand testing capabilities in the US, most regions still lack access to the necessary testing and equipment they need.
When the president stepped onto the podium in March in the Rose Garden, surrounded by executives from the country’s largest pharmacies and retailers, including Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens, it was expected that the nation would soon see an explosion of testing facilities that offer them could be the kind of population-scale testing needed to deal with a nationwide outbreak.
President Trump also said at the time that a team of 1,700 Google engineers are developing a triage tool to assess whether someone should be tested for COVID-19 and direct them to locations where those tests could be done .
Reality fell far short of these expectations. Google was not responsible for developing the triage tool described by the president. The development work was carried out by another subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet and had completed 3,700 tests by the end of March. The company set up four test sites across California in two weeks.
Efforts to make the screening available in pharmacies across the country are also lagging behind. Last week, Walgreens announced that the company would expand its drive-through inspection capabilities to 15 locations in seven states. That is from a single location in late March. Each site can test 3,000 people a day, the company said. And CVS is expanding from a single location in Massachusetts to four locations, including two in Massachusetts and one each in Rhode Island and Georgia. 1,000 people can be tested daily at its locations.
Target has not opened a single facility since then.
“At this point, federal, state and local officials continue to lead the planning for additional test sites,” a Target spokesman said in a statement to National Public Radio. “We are determined to offer our parking lots and support their efforts when they are ready to be activated.”
Both CVS and Walgreens are using Abbott’s new ID NOW COVID-19 test, but neither company is testing to the extent that medical professionals consider appropriate to drive a full reopening of the U.S. economy (which some experts have been advocating to get started with) May).
In fact, the speed of testing varies across the country in both government and private facilities, also because only people with severe COVID-19 symptoms are tested for the disease.
As Vox reported over the weekend, the US has tested the rate of South Korea at 74% – where testing and tracing largely prevented the outbreak from becoming too severe – and is not even approaching the testing levels of other hard-hit countries like Canada, Germany and Italy.
Part of the problem is the lack of the necessary equipment to run tests at the required scale. States are busy finding vital personal protective equipment for those health care workers who are most at risk of COVID-19 exposure, but they are also running out of the equipment they need to test patients.
Just today, the Los Angeles Times reported that New York may no longer have the necessary test smears. “There is still an atmosphere of enormous scarcity,” the Times quoted Mayor Bill de Blasio as saying. “I’ve spoken to the president and other key members of the administration … that’s the crucial need.”
Ford today announced a partnership with Thermo Fisher to address the shortage of test kits and personal protective equipment. However, it is by no means the only company starting work on this particular defect. Last month, private 3D printing technology developers like Carbon, Markforged and FormLabs announced they would begin manufacturing personal protective equipment and the test swabs required to conduct COVID-19 tests.
But even with more swabs, there may not be enough testing capacity to meet the increased demand.
Quest Diagnostics, one of the private testing companies running COVID-19 tests, has already had a two-day backlog of cases according to its latest test statement.
Quest, LabCorp and the lobby group they represent in Washington have reached out to the White House to provide more assistance to improve their ability to test potentially infected people, according to an NPR report.
In early March, companies turned to the government with three inquiries: funding to build new test facilities; Standards to ensure that tests are performed appropriately and given to the correct people; and support to get the supplies necessary to run tests. According to the NPR, companies have not yet received this guidance or assistance.
Testing remains the linchpin of successful attempts to successfully contain the spread of COVID-19, according to a Duke University report co-authored by Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner and partner in billionaire venture capital New Enterprise Associates .
“The ability to perform rapid diagnostic tests for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and for those at exposure or at greater risk of contracting or transmitting the virus (healthcare workers, workers in congregational environments) with a robust Sentinel monitoring system that Routinely monitored population infestation in order to detect small outbreaks early, especially in vulnerable populations, is the first step in a successful containment plan, the study says.
Even Google and Apple’s efforts to develop contact tracing technology need to be supported by more robust testing capabilities.
So far, the US has not even been able to achieve the test targets that the president had set in the rose garden. “It will be very quick,” he said of the approval process for new tests. “It’s going very quickly – which will bring an additional 1.4 million tests on board next week and 5 million tests within a month. I doubt we’ll need this around. “
That Friday in March, when the president gave his Rose Garden address, 2,006 people had tested positive for the disease and 42 people had died.
To date, the U.S. has run 2.935 million tests, with 576,774 positive cases, 2,358,232 negative cases, and 17,159 cases awaiting approval. And 23,369 people in the US have died from the disease.