RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina is joining with six other states to try to secure more rapid tests to determine if someone is positive for COVID-19, committing to purchasing 500,000 of those tests.
The Rockefeller Foundation is working with the states in an effort to ramp up testing nationally and demonstrate to companies that produce the rapid tests that there is enough demand to support increasing their production.
The other states involved in the agreement include: Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan and Louisiana.
Gov. Roy Cooper said the purpose is “to explore ways to leverage our buying power or our collective power to be able to get more testing into our states because of a lack of a federal strategy.”
An antigen test is a diagnostic test to determine if someone is infected with the coronavirus.
“This diagnostic test rapidly detects certain proteins that are part of the COVID-19 virus. Using a nasal or throat swab to get sample fluid, antigen tests can produce results in minutes. Because these tests are faster and less expensive than molecular tests are, some experts consider antigen tests more practical to use for large numbers of people. A positive antigen test result is considered very accurate, but there’s an increased chance of false-negative results. So antigen tests aren’t as sensitive as molecular tests are. Depending on the situation, your doctor may recommend a molecular test to confirm a negative antigen test result,” according to a post by the Mayo Clinic.
The antigen tests can produce results in 15 to 20 minutes.
Molecular tests have been used much more commonly in recent months, but a demand for COVID-19 testing has led to major delays in getting results from those tests back.
At the end of July, Quest Diagnostics, one of the major labs processing those tests, said the average turnaround time was seven days. That improved this week to five days.
Health experts say these delays make it too difficult to do effective contact tracing and ensure people who are infected are isolating.
“We have to have new testing technologies, screening tests that are cheaper, that turn around the result much, much faster,” said Dr. Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation.
His organization has called for a national testing strategy, especially as flu season approaches and could lead to an even greater demand in testing.
The Rockefeller Foundation said the states are in discussions with two companies, Becton Dickinson and Quidel, both of which manufacture antigen tests that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Each state is committing to purchasing 500,000 tests. Additional states and cities could join into the compact.
The foundation says the tests can be helpful in detecting outbreaks in settings like nursing homes and schools.
It’s not clear how quickly a deal will close with the manufacturers and what the tests will cost. CBS 17 reached out to both companies, but they did not reply to interview requests.
The Rockefeller Foundation says the United States should be conducting 30 million tests per week by October and is conducting about 4.5 million per week currently.