The lack of a national strategy prompted several states and municipalities to develop their own testing programs with varying standards. Subsequently some states have formed regional alliances to procure needed resources and to share data and strategies for a more coordinated COVID-19 response.
Public health experts say a national plan would help establish a more unified set of metrics to measure progress in the effort to expand testing, and address many of the problems that have led to shortages, quality issues regarding test accuracy, and delays in results.
“A national testing strategy, if fully funded and developed in collaboration with states, will maximize public safety,” said Trish Riley, executive director for the National Academy for State Health Policy. “When states reopen their economies, they need enough testing and the ground troops to conduct contact tracing.”
Since early April, more than 100,000 coronavirus tests have been conducted daily in the U.S. for a total of more than 4.5 million since the start of the outbreak, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization launched in April by the Atlantic magazine.
Projections indicate an average daily capacity of 500,000 to 1.5 million tests will be necessary to begin reopening the country, said John Auerbach, CEO of Trust for America’s Health.
Any national program should establish a guidance committee that includes input from state and local officials as well as hospital leaders and representatives from laboratories to ensure the administration is getting insights from all relevant voices, Auerbach added.
Resources aside, Dr. James Cardon, chief clinical integration officer at the Hartford (Conn.) HealthCare system, said a national program must also address testing for those who have lost employer-based insurance as unemployment surges. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, enacted in March, dealt with some concerns by letting state Medicaid plans cover COVID-19 testing with no out-of-pocket costs for the uninsured.
But COVID-19 treatment costs for the uninsured aren’t covered by the law, and the threat of large medical bills may deter many low-income and uninsured individuals from being tested.
“As we think about broad-based testing, how do we ensure that we don’t put up any financial barriers for folks to test and ensure we are being totally inclusive regardless of access to insurance or whether you’re a citizen or not,” Cardon said.