At the end of September, the White House announced significant expansion in the country’s ability to perform diagnostic tests for the coronavirus.
“We are now at an inflection point in testing,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, a high-ranking Department of Health and Human Services official who is in charge of testing on the White House coronavirus task force.
Recent developments with Abbott Laboratories’ BinaxNOW rapid test will make it possible to test for the coronavirus in just minutes, compared to days or weeks in the early days of the pandemic.
What is BinaxNOW Rapid Testing?
The Trump Administration has purchased 150 million BinaxNOW tests for $760 million. Those rapid tests are being deployed to locations with the highest potential for widespread infection: nursing homes, schools, and universities.
In its press release announcing emergency use authorization from the FDA, Abbott described BinaxNow as “a rapid, reliable, highly portable, and affordable tool for detecting active coronavirus infections at massive scale.”
The rapid test uses Abbott’s established lateral flow technology, which is similar to a store-bought pregnancy test. This means it doesn’t require any additional instruments or laboratory tools to process and read results. BinaxNow is small, about the size of a credit card, and reveals results within fifteen minutes.
A doctor can perform the BinaxNOW test with a standard nasal swab in both nostrils, “rotating five times in each nostril,” Abbott specifies. The clinician then opens the BinaxNow testing card, lays it flat, and adds six drops of extraction reagent into the designated hole on the test card. The nasal swab is inserted directly into another hole and rotated three times before the test is closed.
Patients can receive results on-the-spot, which experts believe will empower the U.S response to COVID-19.
“We intentionally designed the BinaxNOW test and NAVICA app so we could offer a comprehensive testing solution to help Americans feel more confident about their health and lives,” said Robert B. Ford, president and chief executive officer, Abbott. “BinaxNOW and the NAVICA app give us an affordable, easy-to-use, scalable test, and a complementary digital health tool to help us have a bit more normalcy in our daily lives.”
A Better System, But Not a Perfect One
If the recent outbreak of COVID-19 at the White House– where rapid testing was used daily– reminded the country of anything, it’s that testing alone isn’t enough to stop the coronavirus in its tracks. Tests like BinaxNOW are most powerful when paired with social distancing efforts and masks.
This is largely because of the potentials for false negatives. No test is 100% accurate, but rapid tests tend to provide more false negatives than standard (and more time consuming) PCR tests. Aboot reports its BinaxNOW false negative rate at 2.9%, but research is still needed to confirm that number.
With so many variables and unknown factors, rapid testing is an important step in the right direction… as long as it’s not the only one.