‘Hundreds of Millions of Dollars’ Being Put Toward At-Home Testing Efforts, HHS Says

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On Monday morning, Moderna (Nasdaq: MRNA) announced that its COVID-19 vaccine trials showed a near-95% effectiveness rate. That news comes just a week after Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) reported its own vaccine was about 90% effective.

That’s all good news. But it coincides with a much harsher reality in the U.S.: the virus’ spread is more rampant than ever; health care providers are becoming overwhelmed; and testing is becoming an inadequate mitigator.

Over 50 million tests have now been sent out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As of late October, 632,480 COVID-19 Abbott BinaxNOW diagnostic tests had been sent to home health and hospice agencies, an HHS spokesperson told Home Health Care News in an email.

But testing alone will not be an antidote to the troubles that COVID-19 presents agencies.

“This is not like a few Ebola cases that you can test and trace. We cannot test our way out of this,” HHS Assistant Health Secretary Adm. Brett Giroir said on a call with reporters Monday. “We have to do the large-scale mitigation efforts.”

Last week, the U.S. hit multiple record-breaking highs in new daily cases. Overall, there have been nearly 11 million total cases of COVID-19 reported since the pandemic began, with nearly 255,000 total deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While tests are being shipped out by the government to home health providers, having them hasn’t been the godsend that some thought it may be.

In a survey of nearly 600 providers conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization LeadingAge, respondents listed a slew of reasons for that.

For one, Abbott’s BinaxNOW tests — which are the kind home health care providers have mostly received — are perceived to be less reliable than PCR tests. Of the health care providers that LeadingAge surveyed, over one-third of them were not using the BinaxNOW tests they had been sent at all.

That could be because the providers already have testing protocols in place, so they don’t need to use the BinaxNOW tests. But other reasons include the reporting requirements being too “cumbersome” or that the BinaxNOW tests have only recently been sent to the agencies.

The general feeling from providers on BinaxNOW tests is that they are a good supplement to already in-place testing measures, but not sufficient enough as a front-line testing strategy, according to the LeadingAge survey.

Nearly 340,000 more BinaxNOW tests are set to be sent to home health and hospice providers this week, Giroir said.

BinaxNOW tests are “intended for the qualitative detection of nucleocapsid protein antigen from SARS-CoV-2 in direct nasal swabs from individuals suspected of COVID-19 by their health care provider within the first seven days of symptom onset,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A key caveat, however, is that “negative results do not rule out SARS-CoV-2 infection and should not be used as the sole basis for treatment or patient management decisions, including infection control decisions.”

In other words, the BinaxNOW tests help agencies, but they’re not a full-blown solution — or even close to it.

While Giroir pushed COVID-19 protocols hard on Monday’s call, including physical distancing, mask-wearing and avoiding large indoor crowds — including during the holidays — he also suggested government-led at-home testing was on the horizon.

“[We’re] trying to solicit, with hundreds of millions of dollars behind it, more availability of tests that could be used at-home,” Giroir said.

Companies such as on-demand health care startup Ready have already been administering COVID-19 tests in the home for months. Ready is using that experience and at-home flu vaccinations to prepare itself for when a COVID-19 vaccine is available and able to be deployed to individuals’ homes.

That could be sooner rather than later.

“We remain extremely encouraged by the news reported by Pfizer last week that their vaccine is safe and has a greater than 90% effectiveness at preventing symptomatic COVID infection,” Giroir said. “If these data are confirmed by the transparent, non-political, evidence-based process leading to an EUA, we would have enough vaccines from Pfizer to potentially protect up to 20 million people in 2020.”

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