It’s the supposedly rapid test that President Trump claimed was “lightning-fast” and about to usher in “a whole new ballgame” in COVID-19 detection. But since then, the fine print has started to creep into the Trump administration’s rhetoric about Abbott Labs’ diagnostic coronavirus tests and where they can be useful.
When asked by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) about the possibility of rapid testing for meatpackers during a hearing on Tuesday, Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary Admiral Brett Giroir noted that, while Abbott’s test can deliver results in the promised 15 minutes, their low throughput rate, or number of tests they can run at the same time, limits the situations where using one makes sense. “The one tradeoff, however, is that the rapid—the, quote, rapid point of care diagnostics are very slow. So each machine can only do four per hour and that’s very, very slow,” Giroir said.
The exchange was one of several during Tuesday’s hearing where senators pressed the Trump administration’s top health officials for answers on how to scale up testing so that state and local health officials can manage the reopening of their communities. Trump officials say they expect the U.S. will be capable of doing over a million tests a day by the fall, but experts say we’re going to need nearly that much right now. Slow machines won’t help much.