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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.

Go deeper

Updated Feb 15, 2021 - World

New Zealand confirms U.K. coronavirus strain as city locks down

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a news conference in Auckland, New Zealand, on Friday. Photo: Lynn Grieveson - Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday it was "absolutely right" for New Zealand's most populous city to lock down, after genome sequencing linked a COVID-19 outbreak in an Auckland family to a more virulent strain.

Why it matters: It's the first time the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the U.K. has been found in NZ. Auckland locked down late Sunday for three days over the three community cases amid concern it might be a more contagious strain.

Fauci says he feels for single people on Valentine's Day 2021

President Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, expressed sympathy for single people trying to enjoy Valentine's Day during the pandemic in an interview with "Axios on HBO," saying it would be stressful and frustrating to date while social distancing and trying to stay safe.

  • Fauci said he and his wife planned a quiet Valentine's Day dinner at home alone, but he empathized: "It would be really frustrating to essentially semi-isolate yourself at a time when you're trying to explore social interactions with people. That leads to a considerable amount of stress and maybe even depression on the part of some people."
Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Feb 14, 2021 - Economy & Business

The problem with vaccine patents

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Open-source the vaccines. That's the message being sent by the People's Vaccine Alliance, a coalition that includes Amnesty International, Oxfam, and UNAIDS.

Why it matters: Manufacturing capacity needs to be scaled up dramatically — and cutting out the need for laborious, expensive and secretive negotiations with vaccine patent holders could help.