- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2020

States will receive 6.5 million rapid coronavirus tests this week, President Trump said Monday, dubbing the move a “game changer” that will allow governors to protect first responders and reopen schools as his administration dispatches 150 million tests it bought from Abbott Laboratories a month ago.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, thanked Mr. Trump for the BinaxNOW tests. He said the 15-minute turnaround time will allow him to screen K-12 schoolteachers daily instead of weekly.

“We want to get 100% of our kids back in the classroom,” Mr. Reeves said in the White House Rose Garden.

All told, 100 million of the Abbott tests will be sent to states.

Governors can use them as they see fit, though the White House wants them to keep K-12 schools open, support critical infrastructure and first responders and stamp out local flare-ups of COVID-19.

Mr. Trump said the other 50 million tests will go to nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and historically Black colleges and universities as part of an effort to protect the most vulnerable. He said the shipments will be a “massive and groundbreaking” expansion of the nation’s testing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a drag on Mr. Trump’s reelection prospects, so he is looking for solutions. Drugmakers are scrambling to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The U.S. accounts for about one-fifth of global deaths, or 200,000 out of roughly 1 million. The country recorded its 7 millionth case over the weekend.

The Rose Garden event offered Mr. Trump the chance to trumpet diagnostic efforts and insist that the U.S. is “rounding the corner” against the virus one day before a pivotal debate against his election rival, Joseph R. Biden.

As testing and treatments improve, states and cities are gradually reopening their economies.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Friday that bars and restaurants no longer have to abide by capacity restrictions in his state. The Washington Monument in the nation’s capital will reopen to the public Thursday after six months.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the coronavirus testing “czar,” said the Abbott tests put the country at an “inflection point” after early grumbles about a lack of testing and then long turnaround times at commercial labs.

The Abbott test detects the antigen of the virus and doesn’t require a sophisticated machine to spit out a result, making it preferable to use in schools, churches, parking lots and the like.

Adm. Giroir demonstrated the simplicity of running the test. He dropped six dollops of solution onto a piece of paper and swirled a swab in the edge of his right nostril in front of guests and media in the Rose Garden.

“Literally, it could not be easier,” he said, before joking about the long nasal swab that has become all too familiar to Americans. “This is not the deep-brain biopsy that we talk about.

“You wait 15 minutes, and that is the test,” he said. “This is a really sophisticated piece of cardboard.”

Adm. Giroir said 65,000 of the tests have been shipped to disaster operations in California, Oregon, Texas and Louisiana, which are reeling from wildfires or hurricane damage.

The administration bought the Abbott tests in August. Since then, it has gradually drawn in the lines of how it plans to dispatch them across the country.

Detecting the virus remains important. The seven-day rolling average of daily cases ticked up from about 35,000 two weeks ago to 43,000, according to a New York Times tracker.

Some of the increase is likely because of expanded testing, but transmission remains elevated. The Midwest in particular is sparking concern.

“The American people should anticipate that cases will rise in the days ahead,” Vice President Mike Pence said, based on the combination of increased testing and rising positivity rates in 10 states.

“But as we more readily identify those who’ve contracted the coronavirus, the American people can be confident because of this extraordinary and historic public and private partnership you’ve forged, because of this whole-of-government approach,” Mr. Pence said. “We’re ready.”

The U.S., like other countries in the Northern Hemisphere, is hoping to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 as colder weather and the flu season approach.

New York, which drove its rate of positive tests down to 1% after a hellish spring, recently recorded more than 1,000 cases in a single day for the first time since June.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said 10 ZIP codes accounted for a quarter of new cases in New York on Sunday, so he is dispatching 200 rapid test machines to those areas. He said Brooklyn and Orange and Rockland counties have been hit the hardest.

“Every New Yorker must: Wear a mask. Get tested. Social distance. Wash your hands often. Avoid large gatherings. Take this seriously, especially if you live in these areas,” he tweeted. “When we see clusters, we will jump in immediately and increase testing and compliance.”

Mr. Trump has grumbled about testing at times because it boosts case numbers, though his administration is expanding the reach of rapid tests and searching for breakthroughs that would allow people to test themselves at home.

“As we do more tests, you’re going to automatically have more cases,” Mr. Trump said Monday.

But he acknowledged the utility of more testing. He said it will root out asymptomatic cases and break up chains of transmission.

“We really have a handle on what’s going on,” White House coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas said.

Also Monday, the World Health Organization said it plans to deploy 120 million rapid diagnostic tests to lower- and middle-income countries in an effort to boost coronavirus detection.

More than 33 million people around the world have tested positive for COVID-19, and almost 1 million have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Experts warn, however, that the true numbers are likely much higher because of a lack of testing and resources in lower- and middle-income countries.

Lauren Toms contributed to this report.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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