The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it will invest more than $1.6 billion to increase Covid-19 testing supplies and expand testing programs in schools and elsewhere as well as boost genomic sequencing in the United States.
"We need to test broadly and rapidly to turn the tide of this pandemic," Carole Johnson, the White House's Covid-19 testing coordinator, said at a news briefing. "But we still don't have enough testing and we don't have enough testing in all the places it needs to be."
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense will invest $650 million to expand testing in K-8 schools and "underserved congregate settings, such as homeless shelters," the White House said. HHS said it will establish regional coordinating centers to organize the distribution of testing supplies and partner with labs across the country, including universities and commercial labs, to conduct testing.
Johnson said that the idea is to match underutilized laboratory capacity with demand for testing to safely reopen schools and protect residents of underserved congregate settings. It's unclear how such settings will be determined.
"These are places that typically don't have the resources or the bandwidth to build partnerships with academic or commercial testing labs, and that's where the government can be a facilitator," Johnson said.
HHS and DOD will also invest $815 million to increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials that have created shortage issues.
"Our nation faces a shortage of critical supplies and raw materials, including pipette tips, a specialized paper used in antigen tests, and the specialized molded plastics needed to house testing reagents, as a couple of examples," Johnson said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will invest an additional $200 million into its genomic sequencing efforts to help track new variants of the coronavirus in the U.S. The CDC will ramp up its sequencing efforts from 7,000 samples per week to about 25,000 per week, the White House said.
"As a result, we'll identify Covid variants sooner and better target our efforts to stop the spread," Johnson said. "We're quickly infusing targeted resources here because the time is critical when it comes to these fast-moving variants."
Johnson said the funding is meant to increase testing in the short term, but called on Congress to pass President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion aid package, called the American Rescue Plan, which includes $50 billion in funding for testing.
"As part of the President's national strategy to combat COVID-19, we will deploy every available resource to ensure that more individuals and families have access to testing options during this unprecedented time and that our nation is prepared to contain and prevent the spread of possible variants," HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran said in a statement.
White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said at the Wednesday briefing that the U.S. has "too little capacity for diagnostic screening and genomic sequencing." Widespread and accessible testing will be important, he added, to safely reopen businesses and schools.
"We need to make a significant investment in ramping up testing across the country," he said. "We're using available funds so we can pilot programs and make progress, but make no mistake, we need the American Rescue Plan to double testing capacity, promote innovation and drive down costs per test."