WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said it will spend $1.6 billion to expand Covid-19 testing in schools and underserved areas, increase testing supply production and expand genomic sequencing, a move administration officials described as a “bridge” until Congress approves more funding.
The federal government will spend $650 million to expand testing for elementary and middle schools and in places like homeless shelters, said Carole Johnson, the administration’s Covid-19 supply coordinator.
The administration will also set up regional coordinating centers to distribute testing supplies and coordinate with laboratories to collect specimens and perform tests, Johnson said on a conference call with reporters.
The White House will also allocate $815 million to increase manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials, such as filter pipette tips, nitrocellulose used in certain tests, and specific injected molded plastics needed to house testing reagents, Johnson said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will spend an additional $200 million to identify and track new strains of the virus, increasing the sequencing capacity by threefold.
The White House is seeking $50 billion from Congress to expand testing and track virus mutations and officials said the steps being taken Wednesday were only meant to bridge the gap until that request is approved.
“These resources are significant steps in the short term, they are far from what’s necessary to meet the need for testing,” Johnson said. “They are merely a bridge until Congress passes the American Rescue Plan."
Officials have said they are increasing the number of vaccine doses being sent to the states by more than 50 percent since taking over. The administration plans to ship 13.5 million doses directly to states this week and 2 million to pharmacy chains, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
The U.S. is currently averaging 1.7 million shots per day, up from 1.1 million four weeks ago, according to CDC data.
As of Feb. 16, the CDC reported that 39 million first doses were administered and more than 15 million people were fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by NBC News.
“We have much more work to do on all fronts, but we are taking the actions we need to beat the virus,” Covid-19 coordinator Jeffrey Zients said. “There is a path out of this pandemic, but how quickly we exit this depends on all of us.”