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President Donald Trump announced plans to distribute millions of Abbott Laboratories’ 15-minute COVID-19 test in the coming weeks, a move aimed at expanding access and helping reopen schools that are seen as key to getting parents back to work.

The federal government expects to ship 150 million of the Abbott rapid tests, based on states’ populations, Trump said Sept. 28 in a press conference at the White House. The country has already conducted 100 million COVID-19 tests as of last week, he said.

“In a short period of time, my administration has built the most advanced testing system in the world, there’s never been anything like this,” he said.

The White House will encourage states — which have ultimate discretion over how to deploy the tests — to use about 100 million to screen teachers, check symptomatic children to see if they have contracted the virus, or conduct baseline surveillance.

A technician programs a rapid COVID-19 test machine made by Abbott Laboratories at San Francisco International Airport.

A technician programs a rapid COVID-19 test machine made by Abbott Laboratories at San Francisco International Airport. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

Breakthrough Test

The additional tests will go to protect populations vulnerable to the virus, including about 18 million to nursing homes, 15 million to assisted living and 10 million tests for home health care and hospice. About a quarter of the more than 200,000 pandemic deaths in the U.S. have been connected to long-term care facilities as fatalities among young people have risen.

The Abbott test has been lauded as a breakthrough by public health officials. A single-use device about the size of a credit card, the test provides results within just 15 minutes without using any laboratory equipment, so it can be administered almost anywhere. Admiral Brett Giroir, the administration’s COVID-19 testing chief, demonstrated the test on himself at the press conference to show its ease.

The shipments come from an order of BinaxNOW tests the federal government previously arranged to buy. The purchase from the U.S. represents almost all the tests Abbott plans to produce this year.

The move may help the administration counter criticism for its failure to put in place a coordinated, efficient testing effort like those that have helped Germany and South Korea control the pandemic. Adding to the confusion have been changing guidelines on testing that are sometimes at odds with the advice of public health officials and experts.

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