Illinois on Wednesday sent its first shipments of rapid antigen tests to local health departments in the state, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced.
The shipments include more than 200,000 Abbott BinaxNOW rapid tests, which will be used in pilot programs "to gather more data about their accuracy and sensitivity," Pritzker said.
"For now, the majority of the initial tests delivered to us are going to local health departments directly, ensuring resource access and flexibility on a local scale across the entire state," Pritzker said. "That means, depending on the needs of the community, the local health department can choose to distribute their tests for any of a number of localized needs, including for K-12 settings, first responders, federally qualified health centers, or homeless service organizations, as well as an array of other options."
The early shipment will also be used to launch pilot testing in K-12 schools, long-term care facilities and state-owned residences.
Abbott's newest BinaxNOW rapid tests hit the market last month and were distributed to states "en masse" by the federal government.
The millions of new tests from Abbott Laboratories are about the size of a credit card and can be developed with a few drops of chemical solution.
Federal health officials say about half of the nation’s daily testing capacity now consists of rapid tests.
The federal government is allocating the tests to states based on their population, rather than helping them develop a strategy based on the size and severity of their outbreaks.
Still, the rapid tests have posed problems when it comes to reporting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Some states lump all types of tests together in one report, some don't tabulate the quick antigen tests at all and others don't publicize their system. Because antigen tests are more prone to false negatives and sometimes require retesting, most health experts say they should be recorded and analyzed separately. But currently the vast majority of states do not do that and post the results online.
Illinois had not been including such antigen tests in its numbers until last week as state health officials said antigen tests previously comprised less than 1% of tests performed and were not included before due to a "limited number of antigen tests and limited information about antigen test accuracy."
"Currently, this Abbott BinaxNow test has FDA emergency use authorization for people suspected to have COVID-19 within the first seven days of symptom onset," Pritzker said. "In other words, we’re still learning more about what the test’s role could be in screening efforts and other settings. Here in Illinois, we’ll take what we learn from the data about accuracy of results and scale up or adjust our programs as needed. At the end of the day, our main focus is just getting the best tests out to as many people as possible – we’ve had more success in that effort compared to many other states, and we’ll keep working at it as long as we’re fighting this pandemic."
The state expects to continue receiving shipments of the tests from Abbott and the federal government on a weekly basis through at least the end of the year, totaling more than 3 million tests for Illinois, officials said.
The tests are manufactured in Illinois and Abbott has hired more than 2,000 employees in their new plant in Gurnee as the company works to keep up supply, Pritzker said.