White House invests $1.6 billion in virus testing, sequencing

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The White House said Wednesday it is investing $1.6 billion to keep America’s eyes on the coronavirus, including an expansion of testing in schools and sequencing efforts that can spot fast-moving variants.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Department will devote $650 million to testing in K-8 school and congregate centers, such as homeless centers; $815 million for domestic production of supplies such as pipettes and antigen rapid tests; and $200 million to sequence about 25,000 virus samples per week, compared to just 7,000 currently.

The U.S. case count has been declining for weeks but officials are worried they are missing fast-moving variants that swamped other countries and could ruin progress against the pandemic. Diagnostics, meanwhile, are considered a vital tool for screening workers or rooting out infected persons so they can self-isolate instead of infecting others.

“As the administration is working around the clock to vaccinate the population, we need to continue to do what we know works to protect public health: universal masking, physical distancing, and robust testing,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki characterized the funding as a “bridge” to more funding included in the massive, $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that President Biden pitched to Congress.

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