RNC 2020: Trump may reveal purchases of rapid $5 coronavirus test that doesn't need specialty equipment

President Trump is set to reveal that the federal government is purchasing 150 million new COVID-19 test kits.
WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is set to reveal that the federal government is purchasing 150 million new COVID-19 test kits, with the announcement potentially featuring in his speech to the Republican National Convention.

A White House official says Trump on Thursday is to announce the purchase of a newly approved $5 rapid test for the coronavirus produced by Abbott Laboratories. The test received emergency use authorization from the FDA this week. The company says it will be able to produce about 50 million of them per month, beginning in September.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the president's speech.

The announcement comes as the Trump administration still faces criticism over its coronavirus testing plans - with experts calling for more expansive testing to allow schools, universities and businesses to safely reopen. The Trump administration this week quietly rolled back its guidance for testing those exposed to the virus in a move some have charged was politically motivated.

Rapid $5 coronavirus test doesn't need specialty equipment

EMBED More News Videos

Abbott Labs just won emergency FDA approval for a rapid COVID-19 test they say is 97% accurate and can give you results in 15 minutes.

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the first rapid coronavirus test that doesn't need any special computer equipment to get results.

The 15-minute test from Abbott Laboratories will sell for $5, giving it a competitive edge over similar tests that need to be popped into a small machine. The size of a credit card, the self-contained test is based on the same technology used to test for the flu, strep throat and other infections.

It's the latest cheaper, simpler test to hit the U.S. market, providing new options to expand testing as schools and businesses struggle to reopen and flu season approaches. The FDA also recently greenlighted a saliva test from Yale University that bypasses some of the supplies that have led to testing bottlenecks.

Both tests have limitations and neither can be done at home. Several companies are developing rapid, at-home tests, but none have yet won approval. Abbott's new test still requires a nasal swab by a health worker, like most older coronavirus tests. The Yale saliva test eliminates the need for a swab, but can only be run at high-grade laboratories.

And in general, rapid tests like Abbott's are less accurate than lab-developed tests. The FDA said in a statement announcing the decision that negative results with Abbott's test may need to be confirmed with a lab test in some cases. The agency granted Abbott's test an emergency use authorization late Wednesday for patients with suspected COVID-19.

The two additions should help expand the number of available tests. The U.S. is now testing about 690,000 people per day, down from a peak of 850,000 daily tests late last month. Many public health experts believe the country will soon need to test vastly more people to find those who are infected, isolate them and contain the virus.

The FDA noted that Abbott's test could be used in a doctor's office, emergency room or some schools. "Given the simple nature of this test, it is likely that these tests could be made broadly available," the FDA said.

Since the start of the pandemic, nasal swab tests that are sent to a lab have been the standard for COVID-19 screening. While considered highly accurate, the tests rely on expensive, specialized machines and chemicals. Shortages of those supplies have led to repeated delays in reporting results, especially during a spike in cases last month.

RELATED | UNC study finds uncovered nose may heighten COVID-19 infection risk
EMBED More News Videos

Researchers are issuing a new warning about why wearing your mask below your nose could put you and those nearby at risk for COVID-19.

Government and health experts view rapid tests that can be run outside the laboratory system as key to boosting capacity.

"Those screening tests are what we need in schools, workplaces and nursing homes in order to catch asymptomatic spreaders," said Dr. Jonathan Quick of the Rockefeller Foundation, in an interview earlier this month. The nonprofit group has called for the U.S. to conduct about 4 millions per day by October, mostly rapid, point-of-care tests.

Abbott's BinaxNOW is the fourth rapid test that detects COVID-19 antigens, proteins found on the surface of the coronavirus, rather than the virus itself. It's considered a faster, though sometimes less precise, screening method. The other tests need to be inserted into a small machine.

Inside the Abbott test is a specially coated strip that interacts with COVID-19 antigens. The patient's nasal swab is inserted into the card and a few drops of a chemical solution are added. Markings appear on the card to indicate whether the sample is positive or negative - much like a pregnancy test.

Two other makers of antigen tests - Quidel and Becton Dickinson have said they haven't been able to meet demand for the tests. A third, LumiraDx, plans to begin shipping its recently approved antigen tests by the end of this month. Abbott expects to begin shipping tests in September, reaching 50 million tests a month in October.

The influx of antigen tests will go a long way toward meeting the Trump administration's projection that 90 million COVID-19 tests a month will be available by September if needed. But U.S. "testing czar" Adm. Brett Giroir has stressed that the U.S. can contain the outbreak with far fewer tests.

"That's the capacity ... we do not need that many tests to safely and sensibly reopen," Giroir told reporters on a recent call. He pointed to several key indicators that have been falling, including new infections and hospitalizations, even as testing has slowed.

Earlier this month, the FDA authorized Yale's saliva-based test, which is expected to cut the time and cost compared with similar tests. It's the fifth COVID-19 saliva tests OK'd by regulators. All require lab processing.

Developed by Yale's School of Public Health, SalivaDirect can use any sterile container to collect a sample, not the special tube needed with earlier tests, and requires less chemicals. Outside experts welcomed the new approach but noted its limitations.

"It's not a rapid test, it's a laboratory-based test that will still be prone to the same massive delays as any other test," said Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard University.

What virus? At GOP's convention, COVID-19 pandemic is largely ignored

VIDEOS: Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway speak on night 3 on the 2020 RNC
EMBED More News Videos

Speakers from night 3 of the 2020 Republican National Convention: VIDEOS (1 of 44)

Watch Vice President Mike Pence's full speech for the Republican National Convention.

It was a scene from a bygone era: Vice President Mike Pence shaking hands with and fist-bumping audience members who had rushed forward, standing shoulder to shoulder, to greet him and the president after Pence's speech at the Republican National Convention.

No one appeared concerned about social distancing. Few wore masks. Some told reporters they had not been tested for the coronavirus before Wednesday night's gathering at Fort McHenry in Baltimore

A more striking scene could unfold Thursday night, when more than 1,000 people were expected to assemble on the South Lawn of the White House for President Donald Trump's renomination acceptance speech. That's an eye-popping crowd in a global pandemic that has forced the cancellation of large gatherings, from sports events and concerts to weddings and funerals.

As Trump has tried to push past a virus that has tanked the economy and threatened his reelection, GOP organizers have worked to stage a convention that puts the pandemic in the rear view mirror and highlights the nation's progress, even as it continues to kill. More than 42,000 new cases were reported on Wednesday alone and 2,700 more have died since the week began.

Few convention speakers have made reference to the virus; others have discussed it in the past tense.

"It was awful. Health and economic impacts were tragic," said White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on the convention's second night. "But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the COVID virus."

The display stands in jarring contrast with the Democrats, who dispensed with audiences at live speeches during their virtual convention last week. Presidential nominee Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris also wore masks, even when they were outside and standing apart from one another.

"Is coronavirus gone? Is COVID-19 gone?" Biden campaign senior adviser Symone Sanders asked Thursday on a call with reporters. "I didn't see any masks or social distancing happening during the vice president's speech last night. So, the reality is, there is a lack of leadership here."

VIDEOS: Melania, Eric and Tiffany Trump speak on night 2 on the 2020 RNC
EMBED More News Videos

Speakers from night 2 of the 2020 Republican National Convention: VIDEOS (1 of 32)

Watch First lady Melania Trump's full remarks at the 2020 Republican National Convention on Tuesday, Aug. 25, in Washington.

To be sure, the Republicans' event looked very different from past conventions. Because of the virus, the GOP canceled what would have been mass gatherings drawing thousands to North Carolina or Florida, and they have been consulting with a coronavirus adviser. Indoor speeches were delivered without audiences. But outdoor events have featured guests.

That included a Rose Garden address Tuesday by first lady Melania Trump, who spoke about the toll of the virus, and Pence's speech Wednesday, delivered in front of about 100 people, including Pence's family and wounded veterans.

Chairs were positioned at Fort McHenry with some space between them, but many in the crowd rushed to the front at the end to greet Pence, Trump and their wives. While the president and first lady appeared to keep their distance, Pence was seen shaking hands, exchanging fist bumps, and at one point accepting a small gift from an audience member. Few in the crowd were seen wearing masks.

Baltimore's mayor, Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who signed an order this month limiting outdoor gatherings to 25 people, slammed the decision.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for this self-proclaimed law and order president and vice president to flout my lawful Executive Order, dated August 7, 2020, intended to keep our residents safe during what continues to be a raging pandemic that they have politicized and failed to control," he said in a statement.

The White House and campaign refused to say how many in attendance had been tested Wednesday or would be Thursday. White House spokesman Judd Deere said only that "those in close proximity to the president and vice president are tested."

Thursday's keynote could be even more jarring. Guidance sent to invited guests for Thursday's event from the Republican National Committee makes clear that masks will not be required on the South Lawn, but are required upon arrival and in security screening areas and encouraged in "high traffic areas including restrooms and hospitality spaces."

VIDEOS: Sen. Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Donald Trump Jr. speak on night 1 on the 2020 RNC
EMBED More News Videos

Speakers from night 1 of the 2020 Republican National Convention: VIDEOS (1 of 16)

Sen. Tim Scott speaks at the 2020 Republican National Convention on Monday, Aug. 24.

Guests have also been asked to "practice social distancing whenever possible" and stay home if they're displaying coronavirus symptoms, have recently tested positive for the virus or have been in recent close contact with someone who has.

Robert G. Darling, who served a physician to former President Bill Clinton and is the chief medical officer of the Patronus Medical Corp., said the group has been working with the RNC on the convention "to make certain proper protocols are in place to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals at convention venues." He said those protocols are in line with city and federal guidelines and that health professionals have been on-site "to make certain screening has been done on a consistent basis to ensure the convention meets the highest standards of public safety."

But the refusal to abide by other widely accepted mitigation recommendations - including those promoted by the president's own heath agencies - confounded public health experts watching at home.

"The president and the entire RNC, they had an opportunity to show the seriousness of this pandemic, which is the worst public health crisis in our lifetimes, and it's extremely concerning that only did they not discuss precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, they are going against all of our public health guidance," said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy at The George Washington University and the former health commissioner of Baltimore.

Wen noted that mass gatherings pose the highest risk for transmitting the disease, and expressed concern both that Baltimore could see an increase in cases and that the display might lead viewers to believe that, they, too, can gather in groups and not wear masks.

Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University, said the event was focused on a different goal: bolstering Trump's reelection chances.

"The president and the vice president are very aware that if people are going back to work and their kids are actually in school and they feel somewhat safe, the incumbent will have an advantage in the election," he said. "They're trying to do things to say that the risk of COVID is much less than public health and other people are saying."
Copyright © 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.