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Biden administration announces $137M deal to boost production of key Covid test component

The contract eventually will allow the production of more than 83 million tests a month, the Pentagon said.
Image: Healgen Scientific Covid-19 Rapid Test Kits As U.S. Cases Surge Past 70,000
A Healgen Scientific Covid-19 rapid test cassette arranged in Hudson, N.Y., on Oct. 21, 2020.Angus Mordant / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has announced a $137 million contract to make more of a key component of rapid Covid tests to boost their production.

The company, Millipore Sigma, plans to build a new facility over a three-year-period to produce nitrocellulose membranes, the paper that shows the results in rapid tests, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. That will support the production of more than 83 million tests a month, the Pentagon said in a statement Wednesday.

The contract is part of the administration's effort to ramp up production of rapid Covid tests as the U.S. grapples with the highly infectious omicron variant. Antigen tests, which produce results in minutes, can be done at home, while PCR tests are processed in labs and have longer turnaround times.

Reuters was first to report the contract.

The U.S. hit a seven-day average of 262,034 cases on Tuesday, eclipsing the record of 252,776, which was set Jan. 11, according to an NBC News data analysis. (The data can be skewed by days with anomalous data entries, which are common around the holiday period.)

In all, 1.8 million cases were reported in the U.S. last week, a 69.3 percent increase from the week before.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced a plan to distribute 500 million at-home coronavirus test kits to help address the crisis.

Testing remains one of the biggest challenges for the administration, with long lines forming at testing centers in recent days and at-home rapid tests selling out quickly, public health officials have said.

The U.S. also lags behind other countries in making tests affordable. In some countries, rapid tests sell for as little at $1, whereas a pack of two tests can cost U.S. consumers more than $20. Biden previously directed insurance companies to cover the cost of at-home tests for policyholders, but that still requires upfront costs for consumers, who must file claims and wait to be reimbursed.