WASHINGTON — The White House announced Wednesday an additional $1 billion purchase of rapid, at-home coronavirus tests as some public health officials worry the U.S. could get hit with another wave of infections this winter.
The move, in addition to the FDA's recent authorization of a new rapid antigen test from ACON Laboratories, will significantly expand the nation's at-home testing capacity in the coming months, the White House said. The administration has faced criticism that at-home rapid tests are not widely available, and that those on the market are too expensive.
The plan will triple the number of at-home tests on the market by early November and quadruple that number by December, giving the U.S. 200 million tests per month, according to White House Covid coordinator Jeffrey Zients. Zients said the administration expects that such a large purchase will give testing companies enough demand to expand their manufacturing production.
"We'll continue to pull every lever as we have throughout the pandemic response on testing to expand manufacturing production of tests in order to make testing even more widely available and drive down the cost per test," Zients said.
The White House also announced Wednesday that it is doubling the number of pharmacies in the federal government's free testing program to 20,000 local pharmacies — an eight-fold increase from when President Joe Biden took office.
The $1 billion comes on top of an additional $2 billion the White House committed in September to provide free tests to organizations like schools, community health centers and food pantries. The at-home tests enable people to perform a test on themselves and receive a result within a few banks.
Still, some public health experts say the cost of the tests will still be a barrier.
“They need to be a whole lot cheaper. $25 each is too expensive for most people. Ideally, over the holidays, people should be testing every morning or every other morning before hanging out with family [and] friends,” Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist who advised the Biden transition, said.
Carole Johnson, the White House testing director, said the announcement will “help to send a signal to manufacturers to ramp up production, and that’s why we’re confident here that we’ll see increased production.”
“In the coming weeks all of the major impacts of these major investments and improvements will be visible,” she said.
The White House, she said, has also secured commitments from leading retailers to sell the tests at cost and they’re arranging for tests to be distributed through food banks and community health centers.
“We’re continuing to work on the cost issue,” Johnson said.
Zients said that as manufacturers scale up, consumers should start to see lower prices.