The Role of Sustainable Testing in Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic
For the past two years, ACLA has emphasized how a sustainable testing strategy will help the country see a clear end to the pandemic and continues to highlight the importance of testing in an ongoing comprehensive pandemic strategy. Laboratories and hospitals nationwide agree with what President Biden recently echoed: that the U.S. should have been administering more COVID tests in the beginning stages of the pandemic.
The full range of COVID-19 testing is an essential part of our national pandemic response. Testing provides accurate, reliable results to patients and providers – and in the case of the pandemic, to public health leaders as well. These critical tools allow us to diagnose and monitor cases of COVID-19, as well as help inform our public health responses at the national and local levels.
COVID-19 testing has not only helped the clinical response to treat and manage COVID infections but has also helped Americans more safely live their lives, including seeing loved ones and returning to work, school and daily life. Since the outset of the pandemic, ACLA members have performed upwards of 188 million tests thanks to dedicated staff and technicians working around the clock every day.
Whereas the early challenges clinical laboratories faced focused on bringing tests online and scaling capacity to meet the national demand, laboratories are subsequently dealing with staffing shortages and fluctuating demands for tests that make it difficult to appropriately scale to maximum capacity at a moment’s notice. As seen during the rise of the Omicron variant, clinical laboratories had to respond to the sudden surge in demand for testing while ensuring that the availability of non-COVID testing was not impacted. In addition to staffing concerns, insight into the ongoing availability and appropriate levels of supplies needed to maintain capacity, such as specimen collection tubes and pipette tips, presents a new long-term challenge.
With emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants continuing to spread, strengthened collaboration with the federal government, state health agencies, labs and manufacturers will help maintain expanded long-term test capacity and ensure tests are deployed where they’re needed most. A forward-looking, sustainable solution will help labs nimbly adapt to the pandemic in the long-run and help public health experts better predict, prepare for and respond to surges in cases and the rise of new variants – in addition to any future public health crises.
ACLA has consistently supported establishing clear coverage guidelines and a long-term strategy to ensure all Americans have access to timely and reliable COVID-19 tests. A recent letter to the White House COVID Response Team called on the Biden Administration to formalize and make permanent communications and collaboration between the Administration, labs and diagnostic manufacturers, expand sample collection sites to leverage laboratory capacity and increase testing availability and provide comprehensive information to states about testing and the test types available.
Effective pandemic response will continue to be critical as we move further into the new year. The following recommendations can better equip labs and health systems with the tools necessary to manage the recent COVID-19 surge and overcome unprecedented staffing and resource pressures:
- Maintaining the extended reimbursement and coverage for COVID-19 testing under the Public Health Emergency Declaration to help ensure patients have access to testing and other health services when they need them most.
- Providing clear guidance on:
- Return-to-work protocols following a positive COVID-19 test result;
- How to appropriately utilize the different types (e.g., PCR, antigen, antibody) and settings (e.g. lab-based, point of care, home use) of COVID-19 testing; and
- How health systems can best utilize internal COVID-19 testing capacity for health systems to handle acute inpatient cases and best leverage external reference laboratory capacity.
- Improving flexibility in utilizing laboratory developed tests (LDTs) to expand and maintain testing capacity, particularly to adapt to any potential supply shortages, new variants or new clinical uses, such as clinical use of variant sequencing.
- Establishing and funding private-public collaborations that provide private-sector clinical laboratories with personnel, equipment and reserves of supplies, all of which are necessary to respond to sharp increases in testing demand.
Testing must remain a critical component of our national COVID-19 response and a clear, sustainable plan for maintaining testing and surge capacity will become even more essential as we navigate the long-term impacts of the virus and its emerging variants – as well as prepare for future public health crises. ACLA and our members remain committed to working with the Administration and Congress to bring the pandemic to an end and are eager to collaborate on commonsense long-term approaches to public health testing that help laboratories meet the demand for efficient, reliable tests for communities across the nation every day.