As part of President Biden’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness – PDF, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will invest $10 billion from the American Rescue Plan to ramp up screening testing to help schools reopen, $2.25 billion to scale up testing in underserved populations, and provide new guidance on asymptomatic screening testing in schools, workplaces, and congregate settings. These measures are part of President Biden’s strategy to increase covid-19 testing nationwide as vaccinations increase.
“Covid-19 testing is critical to saving lives and restoring economic activity,” says HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran. “As part of the Biden Administration’s National Strategy, HHS will continue to expand our capacity to get testing to the individuals and the places that need it most, so we can prevent transmission of the virus and defeat the pandemic.”
Today’s announcement includes funding or guidance to:
Support covid-19 screening testing to help schools reopen: Consistent with the American Rescue Plan (P.L. 117-2), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will provide $10 billion to states to support covid-19 screening testing for teachers, staff and students to assist schools in reopening safely for in-person instruction. CDC’s Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation, released in February 2021, makes clear that screening testing is a tool schools can utilize to help reopen safely as part of a comprehensive covid-19 mitigation approach. Using existing funding mechanisms, this funding will be able to be deployed quickly as part of a strategy to help get schools open in the remaining months of this school year. In addition to ensuring diagnostic testing of symptomatic and exposed individuals, serial screening testing will help schools identify infected individuals without symptoms who may be contagious so that prompt action can be taken to prevent further transmission. With this ARP funding, states can support the critical testing and testing supports schools need to implement screening testing programs. Recognizing that establishing a testing program is new for many schools, CDC and state and local health departments will support technical assistance to assist states and schools in standing up and implementing these programs. Today, CDC is releasing the state-by-state allocation table with final awards to be made to health departments in early April. (The table is available below.)
Address disparities and promote equity in covid-19 testing and mitigation: CDC will invest $2.25 billion to address covid-19-related health disparities and advance health equity among high-risk and underserved populations, including racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural areas. This funding represents CDC’s largest investment to date to support communities affected by covid-19-related health disparities. Grants to public health departments will improve testing and contact tracing capabilities; develop innovative mitigation and prevention resources and services; and, improve data collection and reporting to advance health equity and address social determinants of health as they relate to covid-19.
Provide clear guidance for implementation of testing, including screening testing: CDC is releasing updated testing guidance to provide recommendations for how to use screening testing to identify, track, and mitigate asymptomatic transmission of covid-19. The guidance will provide information on the categories of tests used to detect covid-19 and the intended strategies for use of those tests, including to diagnose infection, to screen in an effort to reduce asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic transmission, and to monitor trends in infection. This guidance also includes considerations for health equity in testing; choosing a test; and guidance for specific settings (e.g., non-healthcare workplaces, correctional facilities, shelters and other settings).
Support asymptomatic screening testing: This week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided new recommendations and information for test developers to streamline the path to emergency use authorization (EUA) for screening tests. The recommendations apply to test developers who seek an EUA from the FDA for screening tests with serial testing. FDA may authorize certain tests, including those currently authorized for diagnosing covid-19, for screening with serial testing prior to test developers conducting certain performance evaluations with asymptomatic individuals. This may include authorizing point-of-care and at-home covid-19 tests for over-the-counter use. FDA also has released a fact sheet to assist schools, workplaces, communities, and others looking to establish testing programs to screen asymptomatic individuals as they are selecting a test for screening. These actions are intended to expand the availability of tests authorized for screening asymptomatic individuals, help bolster existing and new testing programs, and increase consumer access to testing
Support covid-19 screening testing in long-term care: The Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense have awarded a $255 million contract for the production and delivery of 50 million Abbott BinaxNOW rapid point-of-care antigen tests for covid-19 to support continued screening testing in long-term care facilities.
Last month, HHS announced additional actions the Biden Administration is taking to expand covid-19 testing capacity across the country as part of its national testing strategy. This includes:
- Launching a pilot program to expand covid-19 testing for schools and underserved populations through coordinating centers. HHS, in partnership with the Department of Defense (DOD), is investing $650 million to expand testing opportunities for K-8 schools and underserved congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, directly through new regional coordinating centers. These coordinating centers will organize the distribution of covid-19 testing supplies and partner with laboratories across the country, including universities and commercial labs, to collect specimens, perform tests, and report results to the relevant public health agencies. These coordinating centers will identify existing testing capacity, match it up to an area of need, and fund that testing.
- Increasing domestic manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials. HHS and DOD are investing $815 million to increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials, including filter pipette tips, nitrocellulose used in antigen point-of-care tests, and specific injected molded plastics needed to house testing reagents. These investments will help create more domestic sources and expand existing facilities to increase production capacity.
- Rapidly increasing genomic sequencing of the virus. CDC is investing nearly $200 million to identify, track, and mitigate emerging strains of SARS-CoV-2 through genomic sequencing. This investment will expand genomic sequencing capabilities to increase sequencing three-fold per week. Increasing samples will improve the agency’s ability to detect emerging variants and understand their spread with greater precision. Expanded testing is critical to support more genomic sequencing, because sequencing only occurs after a covid-19 test comes up positive.
The American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law last week, will allow the Biden Administration to further ramp up testing actions to detect, diagnose, trace and monitor covid-19 and prevent its spread.
Read more, including a chart of state-by-state funding allocations, from HHS.