Added COVID-19 testing on the way with $1.6B from the Biden administration

Drive-through coronavirus screening sites continue to pop up around Florida. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is directing $1.6 billion to bolster COVID-19 testing nationally, including money to expand testing in schools and homeless shelters, boost supplies needed for testing, and analyze results to more quickly identify new strains of the virus.

Roughly $650 million of the sum would go toward creating regional coordinating centers, which will partner with labs that have underused testing capacity. Biden’s COVID-19 advisers said that effort could bring more testing to schools.

His advisers in a briefing on Wednesday described the testing coordination effort as a pilot program, adding that additional money would be needed from Congress to fully scale up the program.

“To be clear, these resources are a significant help in the short term, but they are far from what’s necessary to meet the need for testing in communities across the country,” said Carole Johnson, Biden’s COVID-19 supply coordinator.

Another $815 million will go toward producing more testing supplies in the U.S., and $200 million will be spent on expanding genomic sequencing of virus variants.

Wednesday’s announcement to boost support for COVID-19 testing comes as President Joe Biden and his administration are facing increased pressures to ensure that schools across the country reopen for in-person learning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday unveiled a color-coded system to recommend if schools should reopen, stressing that the safest way to do so is having a low level of coronavirus infection in the community.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert at the National Institutes for Health and a top Biden adviser, reiterated Wednesday that the administration believes teachers should be prioritized for receiving vaccines, but that reopening schools for in-person classes does not need to wait until every teacher has been vaccinated.

The number of COVID-19 vaccines being administered daily has risen steadily since Biden took office.

The average daily rate is now 1.7 million shots per day, up from 892,000 when Biden took office, according to data released Wednesday from his COVID-19 task force.

The administration also boosted the number of doses headed to states, announcing Tuesday that the weekly allocation will be 13.5 million doses, up from 11 million.

A third vaccine option may become available at the end of the month: a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is now under review by the Food and Drug Administration. But Biden’s COVID-19 advisers caution that of the 100 million doses that J&J is expected to deliver to the U.S. by the end of June, only a few million would be available once the FDA makes its approval decision.