How can manufacturers help their workers get tested for COVID-19 and keep their communities safe? Many manufacturers are wondering about this, but information about testing is often unavailable, confusing or soon out of date. So we asked NAM Vice President of Infrastructure, Innovation and Human Resources Policy Robyn Boerstling to tell us what’s really going on.
What kinds of tests are available? “The situation changes weekly, if not daily,” warns Boerstling.
- New tests are in development and “coming online with greater frequency,” while the FDA is working to expand their availability quickly. A useful resource: the FDA’s primer on testing basics. The FDA has authorized approximately 113 tests to date.
- Meanwhile, HHS continues to focus on public-private partnerships that send tests to drive-up facilities in parking lots and similar places, she adds. A list of available community testing sites can be found here.
Currently, it’s still very hard for employers to get tests for onsite facilities, and the FDA has warned that tests bought from overseas suppliers may be unreliable. As Boerstling notes, the city of Laredo, Texas discovered that the tests it bought from China for half a million dollars were only 20 percent accurate.
Is anyone verifying the accuracy of these tests? Yes, but the process is ongoing and the FDA is adapting to a rapidly changing environment, says Boerstling.
- This week, the FDA announced a new verification tool for developers to improve testing accuracy.
- “The NIH is working with the FDA to validate existing tests, as well as with private researchers, including a group funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,” she notes.
- “Manufacturers should visit the FDA website frequently or check in with the NAM, which is monitoring this issue closely.”
Will the tests be processed in a timely manner? “The time it takes to process a test is changing regularly and depends on the capacity of the lab being used and the type of test,” says Boerstling.
- “Many NAM members have noted uneven lab capacity across the country.”
- As of now, more than 245 labs are currently providing testing under the policies set forth by HHS.
What is the federal government doing about this? Congress has provided aid to boost testing capacity, but its impact will be gradual, Boerstling cautions.
- “The recently enacted $484 billion COVID-19 relief package included $25 billion for broad testing initiatives. Currently, the NAM is working to see how employers fit into this equation,” she elaborates.
- Earlier this month, the administration announced that it sent $11 billion to states for testing support this month, along with about 12 million swabs.
Related: Of course, testing isn’t the only important tool for keeping employees safe. NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons has been stressing the importance of face coverings and other types of PPE as a COVID-19 mitigation strategy. Watch a recent video here.