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Maine received the 15 rapid coronavirus testing machines that it expected but only a small fraction of the test kits, leading a top health official to say on Wednesday the state was going “back to the drawing board” on a testing strategy.
The Abbott Laboratories test can return positive coronavirus test results within 5 minutes and negative results within 13 minutes and has been heralded nationally. The test kits are made in Scarborough by the Illinois-based company that says it is producing 50,000 kits per week.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that Maine health care providers would get enough of the Abbott machines and kits to test roughly 2,400 people as part of a state strategy to preserve protective equipment for frontline health care workers.
By Wednesday, Maine CDC received only five test kits instead of the expected 10 kits per machine, said spokesperson Robert Long. It means the state can only perform 115 rapid tests in addition to the between 300 and 400 traditional tests processed daily in Augusta.
“We’re going back to the drawing board today to get a better sense of what the best strategy for those machines will be,” Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah told reporters on Wednesday.
The Maine CDC has not “received any further information about why that number changed,” Long said. Abbott spokesperson John Koval said the test kits to the Maine CDC were an initial shipment and “more tests will be coming to Maine this month.” The federal government is coordinating the delivery of tests to states.
Martin’s Point Health Care said Tuesday that it had received the first 1,000 tests from Abbott, and has asked to receive 1,000 more each week. The health care system is using the rapid tests at its mobile testing sites in Portland and Brunswick on established patients.
National issues with the Abbott tests emerged this week. A Kaiser Health News story referencing a memo circulated at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that state and local health officials were set to receive only 5,500 coronavirus tests. A request for more specifics from a federal health and human services spokesperson about the shortfall in tests was not immediately answered.
Abbott spokeswoman Kimberly LaFleur said the 5,500 figure is not accurate. She said the company has shipped 190,000 tests to customers in 21 states and remains in “close coordination” with state and federal officials as well as providers.
The test kits cost about $40 each, said Norman Moore, the scientific affairs director at Abbott in Scarborough. The test machines are priced at no more than $4,500 per unit “to prevent price markups in secondary markets,” he said.