U.S. prepares push to reduce 'unnecessary' COVID-19 testing: official

FILE PHOTO: People wait in long lines for COVID-19 testing in Houston

By Carl O'Donnell and and Dania Nadeem

(Reuters) - The United States is preparing to issue guidance on reducing "unnecessary" testing for COVID-19 as it works to cut turnaround times for tests, a senior U.S. health official said on Thursday.

Details of the guidance are still being hammered out but it would be aimed partly at discouraging COVID-19 patients who have completed home quarantine from getting retested before returning to work or school, said Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Speaking on a call with reporters, he said such unnecessary tests were "clogging up the system."

"You do not need to be retested unless you are a critically ill person in the hospital or a very unusual case with immune suppression in which case you could shed virus for longer than seven or eight days," he said.

"Turnaround times continue to be an issue" for COVID-19 tests, he added, saying he would like to see the average get down to three days. Currently, only 26 states are taking three days or less to produce test results, with one state taking more than five days.

The new guidance on testing is "not a result of shortages," Girior added, but rather because such tests are not needed.

The U.S. government is trying to facilitate a transition away from lab-based tests, which can have longer turnaround times, to point-of-care tests, which can provide results in minutes and be conducted in a wider variety of locations.

The U.S. government expects there will be 20 million point-of-care tests per month available by September, Girior said.

Becton Dickinson on Wednesday said the U.S. government agreed to buy 750,000 of its point-of-care tests.

(Reporting by Dania Nadeem and Carl O'Donnell; Editing by Tom Brown)