Aly Morici, Abbott’s director of public affairs, rose to the challenge in the US, saying in an email that “it is difficult to scale to a dime, but we’re doing it again”. She admitted that “there will be some delivery bottlenecks in the coming weeks”.
Abbott invited workers back to the Maine facility this month to meet what a letter described as “unexpected production needs”. However, it is unclear how many employees will be returning. They would forego weeks of non-work remuneration, as provided for in their severance payments, with only a two-week “thank you” salary extension and no guarantee that their job would last.
The company wasn’t in that position in early 2020. In anticipation of fast, reliable testing that did not require specialized equipment, Abbott assembled a team of approximately 100 scientists, supply chain experts, and engineers to develop BinaxNOW in a highly compressed timeframe. The company took risks, imported expensive equipment, and opened two US factories. “Everyone’s been working non-stop,” said Mr. Ford. “That’s what Abbott was built for, in the end.”
The test strip, which is similar to the one on a stretch stick, is less sensitive than the PCR, but provides instant results so a company or school can react immediately.
The FDA granted BinaxNOW emergency approval last August. A day later, the U.S. government announced it would buy 150 million of the tests for $ 760 million – $ 5 per test plus shipping – to be used in facilities such as nursing homes and schools.
Washington’s Friendship Public Charter School received 20,000 government-purchased BinaxNOW tests for free as part of a pilot program supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Patricia A. Brantley, the school’s general manager, said 70 percent of students’ parents chose to have them wiped once a week. “Testing is still an important part of the strategy to not only reopen schools but keep them open,” said Ms. Brantley.
Northwestern University also introduced BinaxNOW early on and tested the students twice a week. The university was running up to 5,000 rapid tests a day, according to Luke Figora, vice president of operations at the school.