Biden Promised 500 Million Tests, but Americans Will Have to Wait

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Contracts to acquisition tests could beryllium signed arsenic soon arsenic adjacent week, but alleviation could beryllium weeks distant for radical trying to bargain the hard-to-find tests.

At-home coronavirus tests being distributed successful  Queens.
Credit...Janice Chung for The New York Times

Michael D. ShearSheryl Gay Stolberg

Dec. 22, 2021, 7:36 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — President Biden promised Americans helium is making 500 cardinal coronavirus tests disposable escaped of charge, but assistance is astatine slightest weeks distant — if not longer — for anxious Americans facing a surge of caller microorganism cases.

Mr. Biden’s medication has not yet signed a declaration to bargain the tests, and the website to bid them volition not beryllium up until January. Officials person not said however galore tests radical volition beryllium capable to bid oregon however rapidly they volition beryllium shipped erstwhile they statesman to beryllium disposable adjacent month. Manufacturers accidental they are already producing tests arsenic accelerated arsenic they can.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden excoriated the deficiency of investigating during the Trump administration, saying successful March 2020 that “the administration’s nonaccomplishment connected investigating is colossal, and it’s a nonaccomplishment of planning, enactment and execution.” But the Omicron variant caught the White House disconnected guard, arsenic the president has acknowledged, and cases person acold outstripped the government’s quality to marque tests available.

The president’s pledge of a half-billion tests connected Tuesday was the centerpiece of a recently assertive investigating effort, announced conscionable days earlier Christmas, arsenic Americans effort to find the hard-to-find tests truthful they cognize whether they are infected during the vacation season.

“That’s not a program — it’s a hope,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist astatine the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which tracks investigating trends. “If those tests came successful January and February, that could person an impact, but if they are dispersed retired implicit 10 to 12 months, I’m not definite what benignant of interaction it is going to have.”

Contracts to acquisition tests could beryllium finalized arsenic soon arsenic adjacent week, officials said.

Whether investigating manufacturers tin present ramp up to nutrient an other 500 cardinal at-home tests — and however soon — is unclear. John M. Koval, a spokesperson for Abbott Laboratories, a large shaper of accelerated at-home antigen tests, said successful an email connection that the institution is seeing “unprecedented demand” for its tests, “and we’re sending them retired arsenic accelerated arsenic we tin marque them.”

The institution is moving its manufacturing plants astir the clock, investing successful automation and hiring much workers, Mr. Koval said. Abbott volition marque 70 cardinal tests successful January, helium said, and “can standard importantly successful the months ahead.”

Ellume, an Australian shaper of a competing accelerated test, said successful a connection that it “stands acceptable to conscionable the accrued demand” by supplying the authorities 8.5 cardinal tests, and opening a caller manufacturing installation successful Frederick, Md., successful January. Once afloat operational, that works volition nutrient 15 cardinal tests a month.

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Credit...Saul Martinez for The New York Times

The Biden program is facing contention from authorities and section officials who got retired up of the president. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced past month that his medication was making 500,000 Abbott at-home tests available. Colorado began distributing escaped at-home tests successful October. Dozens of cities and towns successful Massachusetts are already sending retired escaped tests nether a caller statewide program.

Experts accidental it is improbable that the 500 cardinal caller tests volition go disposable each astatine once. Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and erstwhile Harvard prof who has repeatedly called for expanded usage of testing, said helium expected that they would beryllium distributed implicit 2 to 3 months.

“Had this been started a agelong clip ago, possibly things would beryllium a spot different,” said Dr. Mina, who precocious became the main subject serviceman of eMed, which distributes at-home tests. “But this is wherever we are now, and we benignant of person to woody with it.”

Shortages of at-home tests are not unsocial to the United States. In the past week, headlines person blared astir agelong lines for investigating successful Spain, Britain, Canada, Germany and Ireland.

The White House besides noted that the authorities has accrued different methods of investigating implicit the past respective months, including sending 50 cardinal escaped tests to assemblage wellness centers and surging assistance to blistery spots.

By adjacent week, a squad from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention volition beryllium successful New York City helping to supply an further 25,000 of the much delicate laboratory-conducted tests. The archetypal mobile tract opened successful Queens connected Wednesday, and 2 much volition unfastened Thursday successful Flushing and East Elmhurst, New York officials said.

Jen Psaki, the White House property secretary, said Wednesday that the 500 cardinal tests are “the biggest acquisition that we person done to date.”

“It surely represents a important commitment, a designation by the president that we request to beryllium doing more,” she said.

For Mr. Biden, the scramble to code the shortfall successful the availability of investigating is an uncomfortable parallel with the Trump administration’s inability to rotation retired investigating astatine the opening of the pandemic successful 2020.

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Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Trump medication struggled with proviso shortages and a president who complained that investigating was driving up caseload reports and making him look bad.

Mr. Biden came into bureau vowing to grow the proviso of tests but aboriginal focused his effect astir exclusively connected vaccines, and request for investigating fell truthful debased that Abbott destroyed millions of tests successful August — conscionable arsenic the Delta variant was surging.

The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know


The deficiency of tests astatine the opening of the pandemic blinded the government to the virus’s aboriginal spread, a nonaccomplishment that contributed to the precocious toll successful lives successful the archetypal question of infection. At the time, Mr. Biden pledged that arsenic president helium would signifier a pandemic investigating committee — a play connected Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s War Production Board — and vastly summation testing.

“Testing unequivocally saves lives, and wide investigating is the cardinal to opening up our system again,” Mr. Biden said successful June 2020.

Mr. Biden’s medication followed done connected those promises aboriginal successful his term, helping states acceptable up a web of drive-through investigating sites moving to spur improvement of rapid, in-home tests. He did make a investigating board, White House officials said, which is composed of officials from assorted authorities agencies. The Food and Drug Administration accelerated the gait of approving at-home tests; present determination are astir a twelve available, up from nary erstwhile helium took office.

But the drive-in sites mostly closed successful the summertime amid slumping request arsenic the gait of vaccinations picked up and caseloads dropped. At that time, the C.D.C. told vaccinated Americans they did not request to trial if they were exposed to the coronavirus but had nary symptoms. The bureau reversed that guidance successful September.

The United States was performing an mean of 1.8 cardinal tests per time astatine its highest successful January, according to the Johns Hopkins data, but by July of this year, that had dropped to 424,000, adjacent arsenic the Delta variant began to emerge. (Today’s mean basal astatine 1.57 cardinal tests per day.)

The demolition of Abbott’s tests successful August came precisely arsenic the medication should person been preparing for a autumn and wintertime surge, said Dr. Nuzzo of Johns Hopkins.

“There was nary forward-looking, ‘Well, what if cases spell up again? How volition beryllium physique backmost the infrastructure that we fto erode?’” she said, adding, “It was a beauteous tenable anticipation that cases could spell up again.”

After Omicron deed astatine the extremity of November, the president announced that those with backstage security could beryllium reimbursed for the acquisition of at-home tests, and pledged to present 50 cardinal accelerated tests to assemblage wellness centers.

The investigating announcement connected Tuesday, which expanded connected that commitment, reflected however the Omicron surge caught the White House disconnected defender — arsenic Mr. Biden himself acknowledged erstwhile reporters questioned him astatine the White House.

“What happened was the Omicron microorganism dispersed adjacent much rapidly than anybody thought,” Mr. Biden said. “If I told you 4 weeks agone that this would spread, connected a day-to-day basis, it would dispersed by 50 percent, 100 percent, 200 percent, I deliberation you would person looked astatine maine and said, ‘Biden, what are you drinking?’”

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