Admiral Brett Giroir hedshot
Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D.

More than 2.4 million COVID-19 rapid, point-of-care antigen tests will have been delivered to assisted living communities by the end of this week as part of the federal government’s coronavirus testing strategy, Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Monday during a testing update with members of the news media.

The delivery is part of the federal government’s goal of distributing 150 million antigen tests nationwide. As of late September, the government had shipped approximately 960,000 tests to about 5,600 assisted living communities and said that 15 million more tests would be sent to assisted living communities over the following weeks.

Calling the BinaxNOW Ag Card rapid antigen tests a “critical weapon to defeat the virus,” Giroir, the federal lead for COVID-19 diagnostic testing efforts, said the tests are very likely to detect people who are “more likely to be infectious.”

“We really want to test who’s going to infect someone else, who have a positive viral culture,” he said. “We’re clearly detecting positive individuals with positive tests, whether they are asymptomatic or not.”

Giroir said that more than 36.7 million rapid tests were delivered as of last week, including 7.3 million to nursing homes, 389,000 to historically Black colleges and universities, and 26.5 million to state governors for use in relation to specific state priorities. 

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., specifically identified long-term care facilities or vulnerable populations as state priorities for testing.

Citing a statistic that half to three-fourths of people who have COVID-19 may be asymptomatic, Giroir said the best way to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the disease is through physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing and the widespread testing of staff members in long-term care facilities.

“Everyone needs to understand the best way to shield the vulnerable is to minimize community spread,” he said.

In addition to the test distributions, six federally sponsored surge testing sites also are being implemented in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Utah and South Dakota, with an additional eight sites ready to open pending state approvals, Giroir said.

Vaccine will be ‘nail in the coffin’

A safe and effective vaccine will be the “nail in the coffin” in defeating coronavirus, Giroir said, pointing to data recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicating that at least one vaccine appears to work well in older adults.

“That really means we might be able to only vaccinate several millions of people but get a majority of the benefit by vaccinating those more subject to being hospitalized,” he said.

Federal officials said last week that a vaccine could be available by the end of this year for “the most vulnerable individuals” and by the end of January for “all seniors as well as our healthcare workers and first responders,” including those in independent living and assisted communities as well as other long-term care facilities. Interested providers have until Friday to sign up for the government’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, a voluntary program through which residents and staff members can be vaccinated against COVID-19 free of charge to them when a vaccine becomes available.

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