Assistant Health Secretary Admiral Brett Giroir has said Americans may never have access to fast, at-home tests for the coronavirus. The federal testing czar made the comments as the U.K. unveiled plans to ramp up trials of 20-minute tests, in the hope of using them en masse.
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Yahoo News asked Giroir whether rapid at-home tests would become widely available. Giroir said: “I can’t tell you. It may never happen.”
“It’s great to talk about this Utopian kind of idea where everybody has a test every day and we can do that,” Giroir said. “I don’t live in a Utopian world. I live in the real world.”
Giroir did not elaborate on whether the hurdles were logistical, financial, or otherwise. Newsweek has contacted the Department of Health and Human Services for comment.
Referring to a scanning device from Star Trek, Giroir said during the call: “There may be a time where everybody can wake up in the morning, pass through a tricorder and tell whether they’re infected or not,” adding “we are not there yet.”
Two types of coronavirus tests are currently available, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Diagnostic tests detect an active coronavirus infection, and include the widely used RT-PCR tests that look for the virus’ genetic material and in the U.S. can take between a day or a week to come back. Antigen tests look for specific proteins from the surface of the virus. Antigen tests are also known as rapid diagnostic tests as they can be returned in one hour or less.
Antibody tests, meanwhile, involve blood samples and pick up proteins that the body creates in response to the virus invading.
On Tuesday, Giroir also said $5 BinaxNOW antigen tests would be sent to states from mid-September, with the “overwhelming majority” going to aid the re-opening of schools and daycare centers, as well as to for first responders and key workers.
Last month the FDA authorized the use of the SalivaDirect test that can be turned around in three hours, depending on the lab carrying it out according to Scientific American, after it was trialed on NBA players.
Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, criticized Giroir‘s comments, tweeting: “It’s not utopia to want to test teachers & kids to return to school, nursing home residents to stay alive, first responders and other essential workers. That’s whatWhitehouse staff and major league sports get. Now. Sure, let’s call it utopia when it’s for the less privileged.”
Its not utopia to want to test teachers & kids to return to school, nursing home residents to stay alive, first responders and other essential workers
That’s what Whitehouse staff and major league sports get
Sure, lets call it utopia when its for the less privileged. https://t.co/ZsTfPVuy5g
— Ashish K. Jha (@ashishkjha) September 1, 2020
Meanwhile, in the U.K., Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for health and social care, told the BBC he envisioned mass screenings using 20-minute tests being widely available near the end of 2020.
On Thursday the government unveiled £500 million of funding for increasing testing coronavirus capacity and exploring new approaches to screening. The plans included expanding existing trials in the city of Southampton and its county of Hampshire using a saliva test and a “rapid 20-minute” test.
The pilot in Southampton involved almost 10,000 people, where staff at family doctors’ offices, other essential workers, university workers and their respective household members, were sent tests to their homes or places of work. It showed that at-home saliva testing was “a reliable means of testing for large-scale, regular testing,” according to a press release from the Department of Health and Social Care.
In the city of Salford, some residents will be invited to have weekly saliva-based tests to see if repeat screenings could be used at scale in communities, the release stated.
The U.S. has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, at over 6.1 million, with the U.K. ranking 13th place with more than 340,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. also has the worst death toll at almost 186,000, with the U.K. 5th, at over 41,600.
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