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The compact, negotiated by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, aims to increase production of the tests, which can deliver results in less than a half hour.
Governors from seven states on Tuesday announced a purchasing agreement for rapid-detection Covid-19 tests, a move they hope will increase pressure on manufacturers to make the tests more readily available.
In a statement, the governors—Larry Hogan of Maryland, John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Ralph Northam of Virginia—said their states are already negotiating with manufacturers to buy 500,000 FDA-approved tests each, for a total of 3.5 million.
The agreement, negotiated by Hogan in the last days of his tenure as head of the National Governors Association, is open to other states and cities. The nonprofit Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic organization that previously committed $50 million to ramping up coronavirus testing across the country, is “ready to assist” with financing, according to a news release.
The rapid-antigen tests can deliver results in less than 30 minutes. Having a stockpile to deploy as necessary would allow states to bypass traditional testing methods, which have been largely processed by private laboratories. As the coronavirus as surged across the country this summer, test results from these labs have been hampered by delays.
In some places, tests can take as long as two weeks to process, resulting in people who don’t know they’re contagious continuing to interact with others. Experts have lamented these lagging results, saying they make it impossible to contain the virus through contact tracing.
“It’s like calling the fire department after your house burns to the ground,” A. David Paltiel, an operations research expert at the Yale School of Public Health, told Science magazine. “You can’t play catch-up with this virus.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized two companies, Quidel and Becton Dickinson, to make the rapid antigen tests, which the agency has noted aren't as accurate as traditional tests processed in a lab. The tests, which can be administered at a doctor's office or pharmacy, for example, are considered very accurate if a patient tests positive for the virus that causes Covid-19. But they also carry a higher risk of a false negative result, the agency has said.
In addition to ramping up the use of rapid testing, the bipartisan purchasing compact—Hogan, DeWine and Baker are Republicans; Bel Edwards, Whitmer, Cooper and Northam are Democrats—aims to expand "long-term" testing in indoor areas where people are gathered together, such as schools, offices and nursing homes.
“With severe shortages and delays in testing and the federal administration attempting to cut funding for testing, the states are banding together to acquire millions of faster tests to help save lives and slow the spread of Covid-19,” Hogan said in a statement. “We will be working to bring additional states, cities, and local governments on board as this initiative moves forward.”
Editor's note: This story was updated after publication when North Carolina was added to the agreement after the initial announcement.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.