Maryland is working with six other states to negotiate the purchase of so-called antigen tests for the coronavirus that will return results more quickly, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday.
Maryland formed an alliance with the states of Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia as well as the Rockefeller Foundation to negotiate to buy 500,000 tests for each state, Hogan said Tuesday morning. By the end of the day, North Carolina joined the pact, bringing the potential joint purchase to 3.5 million tests.
The multistate purchasing pact is the first of its kind in the nation, Hogan said in a statement, and the states are willing to open their deal up to other state and local governments.
The Republican governor said the states found it is necessary to seek the rapid antigen tests due to delays in getting results from labs on other coronavirus tests “and the federal administration attempting to cut funding for testing.”
The states are “in discussions” with test manufacturers Becton Dickson and Quidel, Hogan said Tuesday. Both companies have tests on the market that received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The tests have not yet been purchased and it was not immediately clear what the cost may be to Maryland taxpayers. The Hogan administration has not said where it plans to use the antigen tests once they are in hand.
Antigen tests look for a protein associated with the coronavirus and can return results within about 20 minutes. Conventional tests detect the genetic material from the virus and take longer to analyze in the lab.
The rapid tests offer some benefits, particularly their quick turnaround times, said Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“They’re incredibly fast,” she said. “You can get results in 30 minutes.”
For the quick return, however, the machines used to process results need to be nearby the places where swabs are collected.
But accuracy remains an issue with such tests, Gronvall said. The tests produce some false positives, particularly when there isn’t a lot of disease in the area, and even more false negative results because they’re just not as sensitive a test as the molecular versions.
Rapid tests are best used on people with symptoms, she said, “because they are sick with something.” If it’s COVID-19, they need to take precautions, though they still may need a molecular test to confirm the results.
Gronvall cited guidance from the Association of Public Health Laboratories, which recommends the rapid tests be used in situations when there are outbreaks, or in emergency departments when certainty about an infection is important for treatment.
They should not be used, the group says, to screen asymptomatic people or health care and emergency workers who need more definitive results. They should not be used for underserved populations, who also should be given access to the more accurate tests.
“It would be great to have more confirmation, more accurate testing for people,” she said. “But in the situation when you don’t have access to meaningful testing turnarounds, then this would be what you’re going to get.”