Three boxes of a take-home rapid antigen COVID test sit on table in Ellsworth on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will announce a $1 billion purchase of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests on Wednesday, an additional investment geared at expanding the availability of such products in the coming months, a White House official said.

Along with the authorization of another at-home test product on Monday, the $1 billion investment and earlier outlays should put the country on track to quadruple rapid testing by December, the official said. It wasn’t immediately clear which companies would receive orders.

The latest moves signal an increasing emphasis on testing as the virus continues to make a comeback in the U.S. and vaccination rates falter. Americans are also increasingly turning to the rapid products for everything from testing schoolchildren to getting into events, and supplies are scarce.

The U.S. has been producing about 30 million rapid at-home tests a month of late, a figure that should grow to 200 million a month in December, according to the official. The administration expects to also improve affordability of the tests with these moves, the official said.

Contributing to that is a $2 billion investment in rapid testing announced by the White House last month that included purchases from Abbott Laboratories and Celltrion Inc. and use of the Defense Production Act to build out manufacturing.

Since then, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has cleared a rapid at-home test from closely held Acon Laboratories Inc. that it said should double rapid home-testing capacity in the weeks ahead. The company should be able to make more than 100 million tests a month by the end of this year, and 200 million a month by February, the regulator has said.

Other makers of rapid at-home tests include Abbott, Quidel Corp., Becton Dickinson and Co., Access Bio Inc. and OraSure Technologies Inc.

Expanding use of at-home testing has also encountered troubles lately. Ellume Ltd., a startup that received an early clearance of its home product and which the Biden administration invested in earlier this year to expand manufacturing, recently announced a recall of tests that it said were at risk of producing false positives. About 427,000 tests were affected, of which around 195,000 hadn’t been used and are eligible for the recall, a spokesperson said.

The Biden administration also plans to announce on Wednesday that free testing will be offered at an additional 10,000 U.S. pharmacies, bringing the total to 20,000 pharmacies and 30,000 free testing sites overall, the official said.

Emma Court and Josh Wingrove, Bloomberg News