Biden's misguided about-face on COVID testing puts us all at risk

What a difference a year makes.

In August 2020, the Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card, a $5, 15-minute rapid test now widely used to detect highly infectious variants. The test is an affordable, portable tool in the battle against COVID-19 infection, as well as a textbook example of the Trump administration’s close collaboration with the private sector to develop solutions for complex problems.

Fast-forward to August 2021. The New York Times found Abbott Laboratories’ leadership instructed employees to dismantle and destroy thousands of rapid tests before announcing widespread layoffs at their Maine plant.

The reason? A de-emphasis on the importance of testing over the last nine months by the Biden administration.

Diagnostic testing innovations such as the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid test didn’t happen by accident. Early in the pandemic, private companies who could quickly scale production collaborated closely with a cross-departmental interdisciplinary team of federal experts to guide research, investment and deployment of new innovations.

Literally a card with chemicals on it, the BinaxNOW test has a sensitivity of 91.7 percent and specificity of 98.5 percent to detect an individuals’ infectiousness in near real-time. Shortly after FDA issued the BinaxNOW EUA, The Department of Health and Human Services immediately procured and deployed the first 150 million tests produced in weekly shipments to states, nursing homes, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other vulnerable populations. It made a difference.

The BinaxNOW test wasn’t the first diagnostic test that Abbott collaboratively developed with the Trump administration. In late March 2020, the company received an EUA for Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test. At the time, the ID NOW was a novelty, and desperately needed to expand testing capacity. Once the FDA issued the emergency authorization, HHS immediately procured half of their production line and deployed them to every public health lab in every state and territory in the U.S., including an increased number to assist rural and tribal areas that did not have access to central laboratory COVID testing.

Purported lack of widespread availability of COVID tests was a hallmark issue during the 2020 Presidential campaign. Media coverage often clouded the Trump administration decisions to invest in and scale the diagnostic testing supply chain with distrust and demagoguing about how the lack of testing during the global pandemic had failed the American people. When we left office in January 2021, there were 170 million tests available for use, not counting pooled testing which could have easily doubled if not tripled this total.

One day after being sworn into office, President BidenBiden's misguided about-face on COVID testing puts us all at riskJoe BidenHenri downgraded to tropical depression as it dumps rain on northeast Britain to urge G7 leaders to consider adopting sanctions against Taliban: report Five lawmakers to watch ahead of key House budget vote MORE issued an executive order to establish a “COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board to ensure a sustainable public health workforce.” As the U.S. and other countries experience the devastating rise in hospitalizations for individuals suffering from the highly transmissible delta variant, Biden’s Pandemic Testing Board should be working seamlessly with the private sector to ensure the development and production of diagnostic testing, vaccines and other necessary supplies critical to combat COVID-19 and prevent the needless destruction of resources.

As COVID variants emerge and spread in unexpected populations including in children and vaccinated people who experience mild or no symptoms, the Biden administration should facilitate a mass distribution of COVID tests to states, schools, nursing homes and hospitals to improve individual medical outcomes. Doing so will also improve the quality of our own data so we will not have to rely on data collected from Israel and the U.K. Through increased testing, our public health system will also be able to detect a more accurate number of infections, especially in areas of high community spread by asymptomatic individuals. 

The Biden administration must work closely with private sector companies like Abbott so our precious resources of time, workforce and federal funding aren’t wasted during COVID surges and as the medical community prepares for another Fall and Winter of potentially highly transmissible flu mixed with COVID.

Partnerships to ensure a flexible, effective diagnostic testing ecosystem will allow testing capacity to be scaled up to rapidly diagnose individuals, and mitigate emergent outbreaks — especially in communities, schools and in other high-risk or congregate settings.

Mia Palmieri Heck formerly served in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President TrumpBiden's misguided about-face on COVID testing puts us all at riskDonald TrumpKamala Harris should offer Vietnam 'market economy' status Supporters at Alabama rally boo Trump after he tells them to get vaccinated CNN posthumously airs final interview with late Rep. Paul Mitchell MORE and during the COVID-19 pandemic response and is now vice president for External Affairs at the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.