New Jersey will get 2.6 million rapid-result coronavirus tests when the federal government begins sending millions of the antigen tests to states in the coming weeks, a development Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday said “could be a game-changer” in expanding testing as the state tries to find ways to reopen schools and keep businesses afloat.
Combined with regular diagnostic testing, the antigen tests will nearly double the state’s daily testing capacity for 12 weeks. The rapid tests will be distributed among vulnerable and underserved communities, frontline and health-care workers, and elementary and secondary schools as well as some higher education institutions. Some will also be directed toward helping businesses stay open, Murphy said.
The deployment of the rapid tests, which provide results in 15 minutes, was announced Monday by President Donald Trump at the White House. He said 150 million tests would be distributed in total to the states.
Pennsylvania has not yet announced how many antigen tests it might receive.
Antigen tests can be used for rapid detection of the virus, though the FDA cautions they aren’t as reliable as lab-based molecular diagnostic tests, which detect viral genetic material. They can be useful in screening people for COVID-19, particularly in group settings.
Trump’s announcement comes as he faces criticism about how he has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and as he vies for reelection in November. The United States has run into problems with its diagnostic testing capacity since the pandemic began, and the federal government has not implemented a national testing strategy, as many experts have advocated, instead largely leaving the task to the states.
The U.S. surpassed seven million confirmed cases of the virus over the weekend, and neared 205,000 related deaths by Monday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University. With an average of 40,000 new cases per day, the country is “not in a good place” heading into the fall and winter months, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday.
In an interview with Good Morning America, Fauci said that as more people begin congregating indoors, “you really want the level of community spread to be as low as you possibly [can] get it.”
“There’s certainly parts of the country that are doing well,” Fauci said. “There are states that are starting to show [an] uptick in cases and even some increases in hospitalizations in some states. And, I hope not but, we very well might start seeing increases in deaths.”
His advice to “double down” on coronavirus mitigation measures for the fall and winter fell in line with a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Don’t start planning a big Thanksgiving dinner party.
To stay safe, Americans should eat dinner with the people they live with, deliver food to friends without contact, and consider shopping online for Black Friday. Having a small outdoor dinner with people in your community and visiting pumpkin patches or orchards with masks and social distancing are considered medium risk, the CDC said.
The agency has also recommended that families do not trick-or-treat or attend in-person candy exchanges for Halloween.
Pennsylvania began September with case numbers going down, but saw new cases rise again through the month. By Monday, the commonwealth was averaging 859 new cases a day. The state reported 918 newly confirmed cases for Sunday and 676 on Monday, along with seven deaths over the two days.
New Jersey reported 561 new cases and one death on Monday. The state rate of transmission is 1.12, meaning each new infection is leading to at least one more case, officials said.
Health officials pointed to continued rising infections in Ocean County, and said 242 of the 561 new reported cases were from that area. Persichilli said the state was increasing testing throughout the county and deploying new contact tracers there.
“Our goal with this increased testing and contact tracing capacity is to contain the transmission of the virus in that county,” she said.
The antigen tests provided by the federal government will arrive starting in the next 14 days, Murphy said, and will total about 170,000 a week. The FDA-authorized BinaxNOW test, made by Abbott Laboratories, uses a sample from a nasal swab, officials said.
Asked where the first tests would go other than schools, Murphy said he and health officials have spoken about the categories of people who will receive the rapid tests but have made no final decisions.
Trump has pushed for reopening schools, but Murphy did not indicate that the antigen tests would be used to reopen any schools that are currently doing virtual learning.
“It will be a combination of vulnerable, underserved communities, essential workers, front line, health care, it’ll be keeping things that are open open, and ensuring that they stay open. We talked to the White House, that’ll be pre-K through 12, that’ll be some higher ed, and it will also be in some form of keeping the economy opening.”
Murphy said school nurses would be able to be certified to administer the rapid tests and the state may use them to test kids who show symptoms of the virus in school.
At the start of the school year, 434 New Jersey school districts were using a hybrid teaching model, while 68 offered full-time in-person instruction, and 242 were remote-only. Officials said earlier this month that they had not traced any cases to in-school transmission in the first days of the academic year.
But as of last week, at least 17 school districts had made public announcements of cases among 34 students and employees in 22 schools, according to NJ Advance Media.
Brown University, which has started a dashboard to track coronavirus cases related to K-12 schools nationwide, reported last week that the country so far has seen relatively low levels of infection among students and teachers in schools that have reopened.
This article has been updated to reflect the number of New Jersey school districts using remote, hybrid, or in-person learning models.
Staff writer Anthony R. Wood contributed to this article.