Today Congresswoman Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08) sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Defense, and the Department of Education pushing for an update on COVID-19 rapid test procurement and distribution plans in light of the Delta variant’s rapid spread and children, mostly unvaccinated, returning to school.
In March, the American Rescue Plan appropriated $10 billion to allow for the procurement and domestic manufacturing of medical supplies through the Defense Production Act. The American Rescue Plan also appropriated $50 billion for testing, of which $10 billion would be channeled to states to support COVID-19 screening testing for schools.
In the letter, the Congresswoman said, “As you are aware, the landscape of the pandemic has changed. Case counts have increased nearly 30 percent in the last two weeks, leading to higher rates of hospitalization and death among the unvaccinated population. As children, most still unvaccinated, return to school, we have seen a renewed demand for testing as one tool to help keep students safe.”
Rep. Schrier has been pushing for readily available rapid testing for more than a year so it could be used as one of the tools to fight the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration has approved several rapid antigen tests, but they are still too expensive to be used regularly, as recommended by public health experts. In the U.S., you can purchase a two-pack of rapid tests for ~$24. However, in the UK, the government is providing residents with packs of 14 rapid tests for free. In Canada, the government is providing small businesses boxes of 25 rapid tests for free. There has been no such effort in the United States, even as the contagious Delta variant continues to spread across the country.
In her letter, the Congresswoman continued, “Time is of the essence. With the start of the school year upon us and the Delta variant causing a concerning uptick in cases, particularly in places with low vaccination rates, I am concerned about the wellbeing of our children, families, and communities. The money has been appropriated. Now I am seeking clarity in the implementation of plans.”
The letter to the federal agencies ends with several questions Rep. Schrier, a pediatrician, is looking answers on related to best practice plans for schools to implement testing programs and how much of the American Rescue Plan funding has been spent on test procurement, acquisition and industrial scaling.
The full letter can be found here.