HHS Boosts Initial Nursing Home Testing Shipment by 400, Promises ‘Affirmative Action’ on Kits

The federal government is shipping 398 point-of-care COVID-19 testing devices to 384 skilled nursing facilities this week, along with 199,000 tests, with a continued focus on states with significant outbreaks, according to an update from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The shipments come on top of 654 testing instruments sent to 635 nursing homes in COVID-19 hotspots, HHS assistant health secretary Admiral Brett Giroir said on a press call Thursday; 694 more devices will be sent to 664 nursing homes next week.

“We will be on schedule to do our first 2,400 in the first four weeks, and we are working on additional contracts to supply the rest,” Giroir said on Thursday. “In the meantime, we have prioritized nursing homes in priority states where there’s a lot of outbreaks to get priority testing at the major national laboratories.”

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The tests, the BD Veritor and the Quidel Sofia and Sofia 2 systems, are being shipped out to SNFs across the country as part of an effort to help facilitate testing of staff and residents — though the full rollout of the effort probably will not be complete until October, Giroir said July 15, one day after the initial announcement.

In the meantime, Quidel “is really just hitting their speed with increased numbers of tests coming out,” he said Thursday.

Though the BD Veritor system was granted an Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a few weeks ago, HHS is working with the manufacturers to ensure that nursing homes get first priority, he said.

“Once we get the first 4,000 nursing homes, and having covered all the high risk, we may allow other priorities to go, and that’s why we’re flexible,” Giroir said. “But right now, everything coming off the line in terms of new instruments are getting shipped to nursing homes, and we’re making sure that the tests match up with that. That’s our priority now.”

Giroir emphasized the need for ongoing focus given outbreaks in Sun Belt states, but noted that so far, most of the cases there have been among younger people and outside the nursing home setting. In addition to the rapid point-of-care testing, he noted the need for commercial laboratories to prioritize nursing homes in states with ongoing surges in COVID-19 infections.

While praising the initial testing initiative, nursing home providers and experts in long-term care have raised concerns about the reliability of the testing supplies needed to make the best use of the kits.

On a recent virtual press call, George Linial, president and CEO of the non-profit senior living trade group LeadingAge Texas, said that while the point-of-care testing initiative could be “a game-changer,” discussions with the test device distributors had led to some concerns about timeliness and supply lines.

“There has been no communication regarding future availability of these test kits,” he said on Wednesday. “And the distributors that we have spoken with say it could be months before ample testing supplies are available.”

These distributors, McKesson and Medline, had told Linial that it would be likely six months before “before an adequate supply of test kits would be available to supply all the instruments out there.”

Giroir emphasized that while he could not give more details Thursday, there would be more steps taken by the federal government on the manufacturing front.

“You should expect to see affirmative government actions to improve the outflow, the output of tests, point-of-care tests in general — you should see that before our next call,” Giroir said.

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