BinaxNOW COVID antigen test

The federal government will invest $255 million to produce and deliver rapid point-of-care COVID-19 antigen tests to support continued screening in long-term care facilities as part of President Biden’s national COVID-19 strategy, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

Some senior living industry experts, however, say that more vaccines and additional relief funding are the more urgent needs.

HHS and the Department of Defense have ordered 50 million more Abbott BinaxNOW tests for long-term care settings to continue screening for the coronavirus, HHS announced. The contract is part of the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness strategy to ramp up testing and provide new guidance on asymptomatic screening in congregate settings, workplaces, underserved populations and schools.

Wednesday’s announcement does not detail which long-term care settings will receive the tests, but industry advocates assume that licensed assisted living communities will be among the recipients, given that the previous administration included such settings in the BinaxNOW test distribution.

David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association, told McKnight’s Senior Living that although having access to testing is appreciated, far more important to the senior living industry at this point would be “specific prioritized allocation of vaccine” for new residents and staff members. 

Senior living communities, he added, have not received adequate reimbursement for testing supplies and “other extraordinary costs and revenue loss associated with COVID-19.”

“The senior living industry really needs the Biden administration to prioritize much-needed funding for the Provider Relief Fund to be targeted specifically to senior living communities, including independent living communities,” Schless said. “Our industry has received approximately $1 billion from the $175 billion Provider Relief Fund, which is not nearly enough to cover the estimated $14 to $17 billion in COVID-related expenses and loss incurred in 2020.”

‘A critical tool’

A spokesperson from the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living applauded the administration’s support in expanding access to testing as long-term care facilities are reopening across the country.

“Testing remains a critical tool to ensuring the safety of our residents and staff, as we must monitor the vaccines’ efficacy, especially in light of new, more contagious variants emerging,” the spokesperson said. “Many facilities must also continue to comply with regular testing requirements, especially those facilities in counties with high community spread.”

A LeadingAge spokesperson said that the “prioritization of supplies for long-term care providers is both welcome and necessary,” adding that the association last month urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to ensure increased allotments of supplies of point-of-care tests for visitors. 

But even with widespread vaccination among residents and a decline in coronavirus cases and deaths, vigilance is necessary to keep the virus at bay, the spokesperson said.

The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law last week, will allow the federal government to ramp up testing to detect, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 cases.

“COVID-19 testing is critical to saving lives and restoring economic activity,” HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran said. “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.”