The federal government plans to complete its shipments of COVID-19 point-of-care testing devices to nursing homes by the end of next week, a top health official revealed Tuesday. 

The distribution process is now ahead of schedule after it was initially expected to be completed by the end of September.

“We’re focusing on nursing homes, the elderly and minorities because they are the most likely to be hospitalized and die. I think it’s very clear that the vulnerable need to be shielded and they need to be our first priority,” Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said during a media call Tuesday. 

The latest update on the point-of-care testing program for nursing homes, which was first announced in July, comes as the federal government is “doubling down” on efforts to protect the most at-risk populations for COVID-19 — like seniors in nursing homes — as cases begin to decrease in parts of the country and social interactions expand. 

Giroir noted that federal officials have worked with each state to develop plans for testing individuals in nursing homes. He credited the point-of-care program and the release of $2.5 billion in funding for aiding those efforts. 

This week, the federal government plans to ship another 3,570 point-of-care testing instruments and more than 1.2 million tests to about 3,500 nursing homes. Overall, it has delivered about 10,600 instruments and more than 2.9 million tests to nearly 9,900 facilities, according to Giroir.

He also addressed concerns about the sensitivity of the point-of-care tests for detecting COVID-19 when compared to laboratory-based molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. He explained that the point-of-care tests in many cases produce data equivalent to that from PCRs, but are less expensive and provide faster results. 

“If you cannot [afford it], as most nursing homes cannot, point-of-care antigen testing is clearly a lifesaving option and is available in quantities of 10 billion per month or more,” Giroior said. 

Some states have cautioned against point-of-care testing due to the lower sensitivity and specificity of the devices. However, providers in states that prohibited its use can now do so after HHS expanded coverage of the devices to include congregate facilities, like nursing homes. 

Assisted living facilities will also be receiving testing support from the federal government, according to Giroir. The federal government last week announced its purchase of 150 million rapid tests, produced by Abbott BinaxNOW, to be distributed across the country.

Giroir noted that while the “overwhelming majority” of the tests will go toward reopening K-12 schools, assisted living, senior living and home health care facilities also will receive support from the latest testing effort. Additional coverage can be found on our sister site McKnight’s Senior Living.