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States Getting Wrong, Unusable Virus Testing Supplies From Feds (1)

July 9, 2020, 7:16 PMUpdated: July 9, 2020, 8:46 PM

Some states aren’t getting the types and amounts of Covid-19 testing supplies that they’ve requested from the Trump administration, according to a report by Senate Democrats.

The report, released Thursday, sheds light on the problems with testing in the U.S. since the early days of Covid-19. Although U.S. health officials are now performing about 600,000 tests per day, many states are still grappling with supply shortages and test result delays—crippling the country’s ability to respond to the pandemic.

The Democratic staff report of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee showed that states received wrong orders, delayed shipments, and in some cases, unusable supplies. One state said as of June 3 that it hadn’t gotten clear information on where to direct supply requests or what the federal government could fulfill.

“One of the largest lab companies in the U.S. said the country could reach a million tests per day only if there was a real, clear, and concise plan for how to achieve that,” according to the report, which was based on interviews with test manufacturers, testing companies, national health organizations, and public health officials from eight states and the District of Columbia.

“The alleged reports from some states generally represent mismanagement and miscommunication at the state level, and a lack of flexibility to use resources that were immediately available and totally acceptable—although not the typical preferred resources the state would use during normal times,” Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an emailed statement.

Wrong Shipments

One state still hasn’t received its full May allocation of swabs and tubes of viral transport media, the liquid to carry Covid-19 samples, according to the report. Another state didn’t receive its first usable shipment of swabs until late May.

One state received swabs that were labeled cotton, but the manufacturer said they were polyester. Another state got the shorter nasal swabs even though that state only used longer nasopharyngeal swabs. And another state received swabs in bulk that it then had to repackage into individual bags.

One state received viral transport media tubes that were leaking and already held swabs, and vials arrived with no information about what kind of fluid they contained.

Giroir said in the statement that all supplies shipped were authorized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. “Although packaging was not typical due to the crisis, there were extensive pre-notification and notification processes in place to provide assurance of the usability and safety of the materials within those packages,” he said.

“While responding to the unprecedented global demand for scarce or non-existent supplies presented marked challenges at every stage, most states have understood and embraced the flexibility needed on a national scale during a crisis while not compromising safety or effectiveness of product,” Giroir said.

A large lab company told committee staff that supply chain issues had yet to stabilize and that dealing with those issues is like “a giant jenga running in front of a freight train.”

Giroir, who is overseeing the administration’s efforts to ramp up testing, said June 3 that the federal government planned to send states up to 20 million swabs and 20 million tubes of the fluid in May and June, and 100 million of each through at least December.

But states and test manufacturers said they expect shortages in plastics, which are used to make the tubes—potentially limiting the ability to perform more tests.

They said plastics will be the next major supply shortage, with one manufacturer describing it as the “tightest product right now.”

(Updated with comments from Giroir in the fifth, ninth, and 10th paragraphs)

To contact the reporter on this story: Shira Stein in Washington at sstein@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com

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