The Trump administration outlined plans Tuesday for distributing the 150 million coronavirus tests it bought from Abbott Laboratories but warned Americans not to expect a “utopian” land of daily tests for everyone anytime soon.
States such as California, which faces wildfires, and Louisiana, which Hurricane Laura struck, will benefit from the first shipments of the rapid Abbott BinaxNOW tests the administration purchased last week.
By mid-September, the federal government will ship tests to assisted-living facilities, although the vast majority will be sent to governors so they can support school openings or other priorities, according to Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the U.S. coronavirus testing czar.
Also Tuesday, the Trump administration said it is not interested in joining a global alliance of more than 170 countries working to ensure that an eventual coronavirus vaccine is distributed equally across the world.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) is looking for commitments from participating nations by mid-September. The point of the project is to pool buying power from many nations and ensure countries get a fair allotment of promising vaccines.
Yet the White House was turned off by the leading role of the World Health Organization, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the news. Mr. Trump has soured on the WHO because he feels it was too deferential to China — where the new coronavirus first infected humans — during the early days of the pandemic.
“Under President Trump’s leadership, vaccine and therapeutic research, development, and trials have advanced at unprecedented speed to deliver groundbreaking, effective medicines driven by data and safety and not held back by government red tape,” said White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere. “The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”
The Post report says the decision is viewed by experts as risky because the U.S. must rely on deals with vaccine developers and is forsaking a global effort that would allow it to secure doses from a broader pool of candidates.
The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It swiftly spread across the globe, killing over 850,000 people — including more than 184,000 people in the U.S.
As the world pursues a safe and effective vaccine, states are relying on mitigation techniques such as hand-washing, mask-wearing and testing and tracing to control the spread of the virus.
The Abbott antigen tests bought en masse by the federal government cost $5 apiece and don’t require special equipment to run. Though not as precise as lab-based diagnostics, they will help the U.S. run 50 million more tests over each of the next three months.
Adm. Giroir said states can opt to test asymptomatic persons with the tests, despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says people who have been exposed to infected individuals — yet have not developed symptoms themselves — do not necessarily have to get tested. The guidance gives local officials leeway to order testing.
Adm. Giroir said the administration is turning over every stone to find new technologies and get rapid tests in more hands but he’s sick of being asked about a scenario in which everyone can test themselves daily.
“It’s great to talk about this utopian kind of idea where everybody has a test every day and we can do that. I don’t live in a utopian world. I live in the real world,” he told reporters.
The notion of daily testing for everyone exhausted Adm. Giroir, who said “next question” after a reporter raised the concept on a conference call.
“We are not there yet,” Adm. Giroir said. “It may never happen — but until it does, if it ever does, we have a plan.”
For now, Adm. Giroir said a mix of surge-testing in key hot spots and support for governor-led plans in each state is paying off.
He said the percentage of tests returning positive for the virus is down to 5.38%, continuing a multiweek trend. Experts say a positivity rate of 10% or higher means officials aren’t catching enough cases within their communities.
Ongoing transmission has complicated plans to reopen schools across America.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday he is pushing back the start of in-person learning until Sept. 21, a delay of 10 days to give school officials more time to prepare and ease concerns of teachers.
The city’s school system involves 1.1 million children.
Large colleges are recording hundreds of cases on their campuses just weeks into the fall semester, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences postponed their football seasons because of the virus.
Mr. Trump on Tuesday suggested the Big Ten could still play this fall.
“Had a very productive conversation with Kevin Warren, Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, about immediately starting up Big Ten football,” he tweeted. “Would be good (great!) for everyone — Players, Fans, Country. On the one yard line!”
In a statement, the Big Ten said the White House reached out on Monday to facilitate the “productive conversation,” which occurred Tuesday.
The conference said it is “exhausting every resource to help student-athletes get back to playing the sports they love, at the appropriate time, in the safest and healthiest way possible.”