Feb 15, 2021 - Health

WSJ: 32 million rapid coronavirus tests go unused

A health care worker wearing gloves and PPE places a swab in a COVID-test that rests on the edge of a table
Park County Health Department Director Alex Baukus uses the Abbot BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test in Livingston, Montana on Dec. 7. Photo: William Campbell/Getty Images

32 million of 142 million rapid coronavirus tests distributed to states by the federal government have gone unused as of early February, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Health officials and researchers have found that widespread testing is necessary to control cases, that COVID-19 testing can save lives as an early positive test leads people to self-isolate, and that more tests performed relative to a country's caseload is linked with reducing virus transmission rates.

  • The unused BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests, which cost the government $160 million according to WSJ calculations, are reportedly piling up in warehouses in many states.

What's happening: Some states delayed using the rapid tests, developed by Abbott Laboratories, as they built the necessary technology to report the results to schools, nursing homes, and health authorities, the Journal reports.

  • Other state health officials were "reluctant to use the tests for regular, continuous screening because they didn’t know whether they would get a continuing supply," while other states "were already using tests from other companies."
  • “The demand has just not been there,” Myra Kunas, Minnesota’s interim public health lab director, told WSJ.

Where it stands: While coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are declining — as well as deaths, for which reporting is usually delayed — testing dropped by 8% over the last week, the COVID Tracking Project (CTP) found in its latest weekly report.

  • "The testing decline we’re now seeing is almost certainly due to a combination of reduced demand as well as reduced availability or accessibility of testing," the CTP team writes.
  • The U.S. has gathered coronavirus over 331 million test results to date, per Johns Hopkins data.
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