The U.S. is conducting about 1.6 million COVID-19 tests per week right now. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The National Institutes of Health is spending $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money to speed the development of COVID-19 tests, with a goal of creating "millions" of quick tests every week "by the end of summer 2020, and even more in time for the flu season," the federal agency said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Containing the coronavirus outbreak and resuming a semblance of normal life will require a big increase in the country's testing capacity, which is still well below where experts say it should be.

Driving the news: NIH is going to set up a "Shark Tank"-like process, awarding money to companies that have promising ideas and helping those tests get quicker regulatory approval, NIH director Francis Collins said on a conference call.

  • The focus will be on viral tests that provide accurate results and are easy to use at home or the point of care.
  • NIH officials said they hope this initiative will substantially increase the weekly test capacity, but they did not want to put a precise number on a goal.
  • The agency aims to commercialize five tests from the pool of applicants.

The bottom line: The U.S. is currently conducting 1.6 million COVID-19 tests per week. However, experts believe we need to be doing at least 3.5 million per week — some say at least 30 million per week — to have a better idea of who has the virus.

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Aug 5, 2020 - Health

Fauci calls U.S. coronavirus testing delays "totally unacceptable"

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN's chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta on Wednesday that it is "totally unacceptable" that Gupta was unable to test a patient for the coronavirus before operating on them.

Why it matters: Mass delays in coronavirus test results across the U.S. have thwarted mitigation efforts recommended by public health experts, per the New York Times. In absence of a federal plan, a bipartisan group of governors on Tuesday proposed one of the country's first interstate testing strategies.

Nurses rally nationwide to demand protection amid pandemic

Healthcare workers on their way to work walk past demonstrators taking part in a national day of action in Miami on Wednesday. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Nurses took more than 200 active demonstrations inside and outside U.S. hospital facilities in at least 16 states and the District of Columbia on Wednesday to demand full personal protective equipment and federal government action.

Driving the news: National Nurses United (NNU) members are demanding that the Senate pass the HEROES Act, House Democrats' $3 trillion pandemic recovery package, which they said would protect health care workers by ensuring domestic production of PPE through the Defense Production Act.

GOP senator says stimulus needs to be as "narrowly focused" on COVID-19 as possible

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said at an Axios virtual event Wednesday that the next coronavirus relief package needs to be as "narrowly focused" on COVID-specific issues as possible in order to resolve the differences between Republicans and Democrats.

Why it matters: Democrats and negotiators from the Trump administration remain far apart on a deal for the next tranche of relief. The fraught negotiations come as millions of Americans continue to suffer from the health and economic effects of the pandemic without the unemployment benefits from the first stimulus bill.