SPARKS — Maryland will be the first of a 10-state compact to take delivery of new COVID-19 rapid testing kits and machines.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced the purchase of an initial 250,000 tests from Becton, Dickinson and Co. during a news conference at the company’s Baltimore County facility.
“This state of the art rapid testing will be critically important to our continued economic recovery and will help us to keep the people of our state safe,” said Hogan.
The new tests and machines — part of the BD Veritor system — will be used initially in congregate facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as state prisons and juvenile detention facilities. Eventually, they could eventually be used on college campuses and dormitories, Hogan said.
“This acquisition will also help us tackle isolated outbreaks and cluster scenarios similar to the situations we confronted earlier in nursing homes and poultry processing plants on the Eastern Shore,” Hogan said.
BD is one of two companies, along with San Diego, California-based Quidel Corporation, that has emergency use authorization from the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention to market and sell the tests.
“We’re talking with both companies actually, but I have kind of a soft spot for the Maryland-based company here,” said Hogan.
Maryland is one of 10 states — including Arkansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Ohio, Utah, Virginia — that joined the compact last month. The group intends to purchase roughly 500,000 rapid tests.
The initial purchase of 250,000 tests will cost about $8 million or $30 per test, paid for with federal funding that is part of the aid to states from a grant from the CDC. Another 250,000 tests will be purchased at a later date.
“We actually imagine it will go much further than that,” said Hogan. “We’ve been in discussion with both BD and the other company, Quidel, along with the Rockefeller Foundation about the ultimate goal. We might use 100 million of these tests with the group of states. This is the first batch. You don’t need that many quite yet.”
Hogan said discussions with BD and the Rockefeller Foundation about using the new tests began in July, when there were national shortages of diagnostic tests and long delays for results.
“We know and have known for sometime that testing is the only way out,” said Dr. Raj Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. “Complete shutdowns of the U.S economy here in Maryland or anywhere else in the nation are simply not viable or affordable for the people who suffer the most when that takes place — essential workers and working families. Neither is it possible for Americans to tolerate the loss of lives in hospitals, nursing homes and in particular communities around the nation from a disease that is not being effectively managed.”
Shah said the nation is not testing 25 million people a month as it heads into the flu season. The new tests could allow the country to perform 70 million to 200 million tests per month “absolutely as soon as possible.”
The new tests are meant to supplement rather than take the place of the more accurate diagnostic tests that look for traces of virus molecules. Those tests are usually sent away to labs for processing and can take days to a week or more before a result is known, according to the CDC.
Hogan said those tests continue “to be the backbone” of the state’s testing strategy.
“These can have a completely different purpose because of the speed,” said Hogan. “It’s just part of the arsenal.”
The rapid tests look for proteins associated with the virus. Tests can be processed on site using a hand-held device.Results are available within 15 minutes, allowing one machine to handle up to four per hour.
The accuracy of the test, however, is lower than its diagnostic counterpart. State officials in recent weeks have acknowledged that patients who use rapid testing could be required to take multiple rapid tests or even a follow-up diagnostic version for confirmation of results.
Results from the new tests will be reported to the state but will be counted separately from the standard tests already publicly reported by the Maryland Department of Health.
BD officials said their version is 80% accurate; they are more likely to produce a false positive result.
Dave Hickey, worldwide president of BD Life Sciences – Diagnostic Systems, said the new system is focused on being fast, portable, and inexpensive when compared to traditional diagnostic tests.
“Both have got a role in clinical utility, but this point of care test that’s been announced today is really much more appropriate for mass screening of the population,” said Hickey.