Major retailers will soon ramp up rapid coronavirus drive-through testing from several dozen prototype testing sites to more sites across the country, senior administration officials said on Tuesday.
“There were a number of retailer-prototypes that we did, with CVS, with Rite-Aid, with Walgreens, and with Walmart, and then also state-prototypes to drive this,” an official said during a conference call with reporters.
The official said to date, the retailers have learned a lot from the prototypes and are planning to utilize new technologies such as Abbott Laboratories’ 15-minute test.
“The retailers now [are] preparing to take this new technology and roll out at locations across the country, and they’ve learned massively from the work that we’ve done with them,” the official said.
“Their throughput is much better than at the beginning because they’ve learned how to minimize use of [personal protective equipment], and to be very effective from a throughput perspective. They are over double the efficiency they were in their prototype sites,” the official added.
“So you’re looking at a situation where testing has expanded rapidly and will continue to,” the official said. “No one thinks that is a solved issue. And you’ll see continued focus on that, because it’s a critical issue to the country.”
Some retailers have begun announcing their testing plans in detail. Walgreens announced Tuesday it would roll out 15 testing sites across seven states with the new rapid COVID-19 test. CVS is planning to open up to six locations in coming weeks.
Testing is just one part of the initiative to find innovative public-private solutions to fighting coronavirus, spear-headed by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Officials said since the initiative began on March 12, testing has gone from 2,500 a day to more than 125,000 tests being done a day.
The initiative has also been working on finding and providing massive amounts of PPE and ventilators to hospitals across the country.
The group’s effort towards that end, dubbed Project Airbridge, has seen the procurement and flying of tons of gowns, face masks, face shields, and gloves for healthcare workers into the U.S. in recent days.
Flying in supplies from around the world has cut weeks off the time it would take to ship them — from 33 days to 24 hours, officials said. The products are coming from all around the world, they said.
Most recently, the first Project Airbridge flight landed at the John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday, March 29, carrying 14.5 millions of PPE, including 12.5 million gloves, 130,000 N-95 masks, 1.8 million medical masks, and 50,000 gowns, which were distributed to health care providers in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
“We’ve done a lot to address PPE shortages,” the official said.
The official said overall, 11 flights have been completed, bringing over 90 million items of PPE, including gloves, masks, gowns, coveralls, shoe covers, and face shields to six U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Columbus, and Louisville.
The project will continue to expand over the next few weeks, with 25 more flights scheduled to land in the U.S. this week, bringing 150 million more PPE items, and 30 more flights in the coming weeks, the official said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will guide the allocation of 50 percent of the PPE to hotspots around the country, with distributors allocating the remaining 50 percent across their supply chains, which include hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers.
The group has also worked with over ten ventilator suppliers to ramp up production. “That’s going to create over 100,000 ventilators over the next hundred days,” the official said.
Sen. Rand Paul, chair of the Senate committee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management, applauded the effort in a statement.
“‘Speed’ is not exactly synonymous with ‘government.’ I applaud this administration for Project AirBridge,” he said.
“It is especially during times like these that government should do everything in its power to cut red tape, reduce bureaucracy, and partner with private enterprises for the well-being of our nation,” he said.