In some of the hardest-hit regions, contact-tracing efforts seem futile, as many people have refused to participate or cannot even be located, further hampering health care workers.
In Arizona’s most populated region, for example, the virus is so ubiquitous that contact tracers have been unable to reach a fraction of those infected. In Austin, Tex., the story is much the same. Cities in Florida, which has been seeing an average of more than 10,000 new cases a day in the past week, have largely given up on contact tracing. Things are equally dismal in California. And in New York City’s tracing program, workers have complained of crippling communication and training problems.
From the very beginning, states and cities have struggled to detect the prevalence of the virus because of spotty and sometimes rationed diagnostic testing and long delays in getting results. For the tests currently available and in high demand, there is not a consensus on who should get them. Some experts say everyone should get tested, even those without symptoms. Others say the tests should be reserved for the people who have symptoms or are more vulnerable to infection.
There is broad consensus, however, the more tests are needed.
On Friday, the National Institutes of Health announced that seven companies have received $248.7 million to ramp up test production and deliver millions more weekly tests as early as September.
The tests, which include three simple “point of care” tests that don’t need to be shipped to laboratories, were selected as promising candidates to address the serious shortages that have plagued testing efforts since March.
The funding comes through the N.I.H.’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, which launched at the end of April. The director of the N.I.H., Dr. Francis Collins, described this first batch of seven awardees as the “first of more awards to come.”
Three of the grant recipients are focused on tests that can be run from start to finish in a doctor’s office or pharmacy, perhaps without the patient ever leaving the room with results in 30 minutes or less.