“Testing is a major pillar of the president’s strategy,” Carole Johnson, the White House’s testing coordinator, told me yesterday. “We think it’s really important.”
So what will it take for the U.S. to do more testing?
Three steps for more tests
Money. The recently passed virus-relief law includes $50 billion for expanded testing, including $10 billion for schools. That will help, experts say, although it’s not yet clear how much.
The tests that Citigroup is giving cost about $5 each, when bought in large quantities. A nationwide program of universal mass testing for unvaccinated people would probably cost a few billion dollars a week — which, again, pales compared with the cost of extended shutdowns. The country’s current testing plan is much less aggressive.
Logistical help. With many hospitals and pharmacies focused on vaccinations, people need places to get tested. The Biden administration is working with state and local officials to open four regional coordinating centers in coming weeks.
Corporate America can play a role, as well. Large Canadian companies recently created a consortium to give rapid-result tests to employees, and the group’s organizers announced this week that they planned to expand into the U.S.
F.D.A. approval. Citigroup has been able to distribute its tests — which are known as rapid antigen tests — only because it is doing so as part of an academic study; the Food & Drug Administration has not approved the tests Citigroup is using. The agency has approved two other at-home antigen tests, but they are not yet widely available.
One issue is that rapid-antigen tests are slightly less accurate — missing some people who have Covid — than the other main type of test, which is known as a P.C.R. test and isn’t an option for mass home testing. But that’s OK. Think of it this way: Citigroup is detecting many more Covid cases than most employers are.