Biden Administration to Spend $1.6 Billion to Boost Covid Testing

Most of the money will go toward setting up testing at schools and homeless shelters and producing raw materials used for testing supplies.

A nurse collects a nasal swab sample from a traveler at a Covid-19 testing site at the Los Angeles International Airport last November. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Biden administration said Wednesday it will spend $1.6 billion to expand Covid-19 testing capabilities nationwide and boost the ability to detect variants of the respiratory disease.  

The White House outlined a number of key investments, including a $650 million funding infusion for testing at K-8 schools and underserved congregate settings like homeless shelters across the country.

The Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services will work together to establish regional coordinating centers to better distribute testing supplies and partner with labs nationwide to collect specimens. 

The administration also will spend $815 million on the manufacturing of testing supplies and production of raw materials used for testing that have been in short supply.

Carole Johnson, the White House Covid-19 response team’s testing coordinator, said the money would be a bridge until Congress passes President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — the details of which are now being hammered out in House committees.

“Talk to anyone who is focused on Covid testing over the last year and they’ll tell you same thing: our nation faces a shortage of critical supplies and raw materials,” Johnson said at a press briefing Wednesday. “Including pipette tips, the specialized paper used in antigen tests and the specialized molded plastics needed to house testing reagents, as a couple of examples.”

Another $200 million will go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to quickly identify Covid-19 variants across the country, including those from South Africa and the United Kingdom.

“Essentially, genomic sequencing is the process that tells us which Covid variants are in the country and this surge in funding will result in a three-fold increase in CDC’s genomic sequencing capacity to get us to 25,000 samples a week,” Johnson said. “As a result, we’ll identify Covid variants sooner and better target our efforts to stop the spread.”

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky gave an update on the overall state of the pandemic, saying new Covid-19 cases in the U.S. have continued to decline in the past five weeks.

The seven-day average rate of infection has decreased 22% from last week to a little over 86,000 new infections a day. New hospital admissions also have been declining since early January, with a 21% decline in the seven-day average in the past week, now down to about 7,700 daily admissions related to Covid-19 infection.

For the daily number of reported deaths, Walensky said it continues to fluctuate but noted they are still relatively high.

“The latest data indicate deaths declined by 0.6% to an average of 3,076 deaths per day from Feb. 9 to Feb. 15,” she said. “These numbers are a painful reminder of all those we have lost and continue to lose – our family members, our friends, our neighbors and our co-workers – to this pandemic.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said experts have been focusing on the question of whether patients who were reinfected after receiving the vaccine are still infectious.

Pointing to a recent study out of Israel, he said it appears people who have been vaccinated and were then reinfected – in what is called a breakthrough infection ­­–­ are much less likely to spread the virus compared to those who haven’t been vaccinated.

“When you follow breakthrough infections in individuals in Israel who have been vaccinated, compared to infections in individuals who have not, there was a remarkably diminished viral load in those individuals who were vaccinated but had a breakthrough infection, compared to individuals who were not,” Fauci said.

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