The U.S. government has reached a $230 million deal to produce rapid at-home COVID-19 tests that can be purchased for $15 to $30 over the counter, the Biden administration announced Monday. The deal is with Ellume USA LLC, an Australia-based diagnostics company.
For home-based care providers, testing is still paramount as the vaccine rollout continues. Having access to cheap tests with quicker results could be an operational tailwind until the vast majority of seniors and home-based care workers are inoculated.
“Testing is critical to keep older adults and the people who care for them safe from coronavirus,” a LeadingAge spokesperson told Home Health Care News in an email. “LeadingAge always supports innovation in technology that can be used in aging services, and broad scale, reliable at-home testing would be a boon for care in the home and community — as well as for all of aging services.”
LeadingAge is an aging advocacy organization that represents more than 5,000 aging-focused organizations nationwide, including at-home care agencies.
The Ellume test requires a smartphone, the company said. For disadvantaged populations, the smartphone aspect — and the pricing — could be a hurdle.
To be taken full advantage of, home-based care agencies may need to step in as a third party to make sure these tests end up in the hands of the right people.
But because the test can be administered by anyone, it’s unlikely that agencies could be deployed and paid for distributing them.
“Our understanding is that the test was designed for direct consumer use,” a spokesperson for the National Association of Home Care & Hospice told HHCN in an email. “As such, home care staff may not be needed at all. However, staff could assist individuals who have disabilities that affect self use.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the test in December. What makes Ellume’s test different from other at-home tests that have been cleared is that it does not require a prescription.
Still, none of those approved tests are widely available yet to the public. Ellume will produce 19 million tests per month by the end of 2021, the White House announced, with 8.5 million tests guaranteed to the U.S. government.
Contextually, that number isn’t all that large. About 2 million tests are already administered each day in the U.S., according to the COVID Tracking Project.
“We are working hard with our supply chain partners to source the materials needed to hit our goals, but we share the same global challenges that other leaders are facing in terms of shortages of raw materials,” an Ellume spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal Monday.
While it’s a step in the right direction, it most likely won’t be a gamechanger.
“This Ellume deal is good but not helpful,” Eric Topol, the executive VP of Scripps Research, tweeted Tuesday. “Too few rapid home tests, too expensive, too late.”
If agencies were able to acquire these tests, however, their rapid turnaround — which was still 96% accurate in a trial — would be an asset. The vaccine rollout has been anything but smooth in the U.S., and providers are beginning to worry about clients turning down care if their workers aren’t vaccinated. The advent of available, self-administered and rapid-response tests could help mitigate some of those concerns, if unvaccinated caregivers could take tests prior to a work day or a particular visit.