Nurses work at a drive-thru testing site for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, U.S., May 6, 2020.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
The U.S. plans to make millions of “accurate and easy-to-use” coronavirus tests by the end of the summer and even more before flu season as states ease social distancing measures and Americans head back to work, the head of the National Institutes of Health said Thursday.
“I must tell you, senators, this is a stretch goal that goes beyond what most experts think will be possible,” NIH Director Francis Collins said during a hearing Thursday with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
“I have encountered some stunned expressions when describing these goals and this time table to knowledgeable individuals. The scientific and logistical challenges are truly daunting,” he said, adding he’s optimistic.
Most current testing for Covid-19 requires technology available only in laboratory settings and needs personnel who know how to run the test and troubleshoot problems, Collins said in prepared remarks submitted before the hearing.
Americans need coronavirus tests “that do not require hours or days to determine results,” Collins told U.S. lawmakers, adding the new types of tests “need to be sensitive enough to flag asymptomatic individuals who have just become infected but may not know it.”
They must be reliable and have a user-friendly design, use various types of samples, integrate with mobile devices, transmit data seamlessly and be accessible to everyone who needs them, he added.
“Such tests sound like science fiction but are scientifically possible,” he said.
Last week, the NIH asked scientists to develop rapid coronavirus testing technologies in a bid to scale up the availability of tests across the U.S.
Promising early-stage technologies will initially move to Phase I, where NIH will make a modest award of funds while simultaneously supporting that inventor or company with technical and clinical experts, Collins said.
U.S. officials and corporations across America are pouring money into testing, hoping it will give people the confidence to return to work and reopen parts of the economy.
President Donald Trump has recommended states ramp up testing as they start relaxing some of the strict social distancing measures imposed to combat the pandemic, which has infected more than 1.2 million people and killed at least 73,431 across the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.