The US ramps up production of cheap and fast coronavirus tests

Rapid tests will expand testing in schools and workplaces.

American manufacturers are actively increasing production of cheap, fast, but less accurate COVID-19 tests, hoping to produce 100 million a month by the end of the year, which will significantly expand testing in schools and workplaces.

More than half a dozen so-called antigen tests are likely to be registered by the end of October, according to manufacturing and government sources. In recent months, regulators have approved antigen tests from Abbott Laboratories, Becton Dickinson & Co, Quidel Corp, and LumiraDX.

As the sources explain, taking into account the increase in production and registration of new tests, it will be possible to conduct up to 200 million tests per month.

Manufacturers of the four recently approved antigen tests can produce about 40 million tests a month, but productivity is expected to more than double by the end of the year.

Unlike laboratory molecular diagnostics that cost $ 100 or more, which is currently used most often, antigen tests can cost as little as $ 5. You can do them anywhere and get results in minutes. According to experts, this opens up a regular screening in schools and businesses, even for asymptomatic carriers, an important tool for containing future outbreaks.

However, regulators and health experts are concerned about the reliability of antigen tests. They usually detect the virus in 80-90 percent of cases, which is lower than 95 percent of laboratory tests. False-negative results increase the likelihood that sick people may unwittingly spread COVID-19.

Also, there is not enough data to guarantee that the new tests can detect the virus at an early, pre-symptomatic stage, limiting their usefulness.

It is expected that 3 million coronavirus tests a day can be performed in the United States this month; about half of them are antigen tests. In October, this figure may grow to 135 million a month, a senior official said at a meeting of the US Congressional Committee on Wednesday.