The Biden administration today pledged $10 billion for school COVID-19 screenings and $2.25 billion for screenings and diagnostic testing among underserved populations.
The money is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act that the president signed into law last week.
The Department of Health and Human Services will divvy up the $10 billion among the states to fund screening tests of teachers, staff and students to help schools to reopen safely for in-person instruction. Screening tests are used to test asymptomatic people for COVID-19. The money will be deployed quickly to help schools reopen for the remainder of this year, according to an HHS news release.
Because establishing a testing program is new for many schools, CDC and state and local health departments will provide technical support. The CDC released the state-by-state allocation table with final awards to be made to health departments in early April.
The $2.25 billion will be spent to address COVID-19-related health disparities and improve health equity among high-risk and underserved populations, including racial and ethnic minorities and people living in rural areas, the government said. Public health departments will receive grants to improve testing and contact tracing; develop mitigation and prevention plans and services; and, improve data collection and reporting to advance health equity and address social determinants of health as they relate to COVID-19. It is the largest amount CDC has ever spent to help communities affected by COVID-19-related health disparities.
Other parts of the plan include:
- Providing updated guidance with recommendations for how to use screening tests to identify, track and mitigate asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19. The guidance will provide information on the categories of tests used to detect COVID-19 and the intended strategies for use of those tests, including to diagnose infection, to screen in an effort to reduce asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic transmission, and to monitor trends in infection. This guidance also includes considerations for health equity in testing; choosing a test; and guidance for specific settings (e.g., non-healthcare workplaces, correctional facilities, shelters and other settings).
- Support for asymptomatic screening testing: The FDA today published information to help developers of tests to screen asymptomatic people for COVID-19, including new recommendations to streamline the path to emergency use authorization (EUA) for screening tests. The FDA also issued a fact sheet to help schools, workplaces, communities and other locations select a screening test.
- An HHS/Department of Defense $255 million contract to produce and deliver 50 million Abbott BinaxNOW rapid point-of-care antigen tests for COVID-19 to for screening testing in long-term care facilities.
“COVID-19 testing is critical to saving lives and restoring economic activity,” said HHS acting secretary Norris Cochran in the release. “As part of the Biden administration’s national strategy, HHS will continue to expand our capacity to get testing to the individuals and the places that need it most, so we can prevent transmission of the virus and defeat the pandemic.”
Medtech trade group AdvaMed praised the administration’s moves.
“This is a big step forward for our country,” said AdvaMed president & CEO Scott Whitaker in an email to Medical Design & Outsourcing. “We thank President Biden for his leadership here. Our children, perhaps more than anyone else, really, are in desperate need of a ‘return to normal,’ and we support the president’s commitment to achieving this important goal. Our companies are working 24/7 to manufacture the tests needed to prevail over this pandemic, and I know our diagnostics companies will continue their hard work to ensure that we have the tests we need to get back to normal in our society more broadly.”
Today’s White House actions combined with the supply of COVID-19 diagnostic tests and increased test manufacturing capacity “will improve our collective efforts to recover and rebound from the pandemic,” added Susan Van Meter, executive director of AdvaMedDx, the trade group’s diagnostic testing division.
“The diagnostic industry is grateful to assist schools by providing millions of quality COVID-19 molecular and antigen, lab-based and point-of-care tests to support the widespread screening that is so critical to safe, in-person gatherings,” Van Meter said. “We commend President Biden for his leadership and commitment to supporting the K-8 school community.”