Biden pushes rapid COVID checks — despite accuracy issues

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Biden pushes rapid COVID checks -- despite accuracy issues

President Biden announced Thursday that the federal government will shell out $2 billion to buy almost 300 million rapid tests for COVID-19 – despite the fact that the tests are woefully inaccurate compared to PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests.

Biden said the rapid tests would be distributed to community health centers, food banks and schools across the US “so that every American, no matter their income, can access free and convenient tests.”

However, rapid COVID-19 tests — which typically involve a health professional swabbing a person’s nose or throat but also have at-home versions — vary in accuracy depending on the manufacturer and the time when they are taken, with some offering a less than 50 percent chance of a correct diagnosis.

A review of 64 studies published in March of this year found that rapid tests correctly detected COVID-19 in an average of 72 percent of people who displayed symptoms of the virus. In asymptomatic people, the accuracy rate dropped to an average of 58.1 percent.

A rapid COVID-19 test swab is processed at Palos Verdes High School in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.
President Biden said rapid tests would be distributed to community health centers, food banks and schools.
Brittany Murray/The Orange County Register via AP

During the first week of symptoms, the review found, rapid tests provided an accurate positive an average of 78.3 percent of the time. However, the tests correctly identified COVID-19 just 51 percent of the time when given in the second week of symptoms.

In terms of manufacturers, the review found that the rapid test manufactured by Belgium-based Coris BioConcept correctly gave a positive result in just 34 percent of cases. The top performer was South Korean firm SD Biosensor, whose test returned accurate positives 88 percent of the time.

A second study, published in April, compared the accuracy of four types of rapid tests distributed by German companies Siemens and MEDsan, Switzerland-based Roche Diagnostics, and US-based Abbott Laboratories. None of the four correctly identified a positive COVID-19 case more than 55 percent of the time. The Abbott test fared the worst, correctly returning a positive result just 44.6 percent of the time.

Georgina Catling, 75, is tested for COVID-19, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Miami
President Joe Biden is toughening COVID-19 vaccine requirements for federal workers and contractors.
AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

By contrast, a January 2020 study found that PCR tests for COVID-19 using mucus from a person’s respiratory tract returned a correct positive result in 97.2 percent of cases.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved five at-home rapid tests that correctly diagnose positive COVID-19 cases between 83.5 percent and 96 percent of the time for symptomatic individuals. However, a late July report by Nebraska Medicine found that two of the five tests are not available to the general public, while the other three retailed for between $24 and $55 per kit.

In a possible response to that, Biden also revealed Thursday that he would invoke the Defense Production Act to order the manufacture of more rapid tests for COVID-19, while Wal-Mart, Amazon and Kroger would begin selling rapid test kits “at cost” starting no later than next week and continuing through the next three months. That translates, the president said, to a price reduction for the tests of up to 35 percent.

The White House previously invoked the Defense Production Act in February of this year to boost the production of vaccines and personal protective equipment. Tim Manning, the national supply chain coordinator for the COVID-19 response under Biden, said at the time that he expected the delivery of 61 million rapid, at-home tests by the end of the summer.

However, the president said Thursday that the US has still “failed to do enough” when it came to the deployment and distribution of tests.

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