From labs to homes: where COVID-19 testing is headed in 2021

The decrease in test volumes has negatively impacted at least one diagnostics maker, with others no doubt to follow as they tally and report first-quarter results. This story is part of a MedTech Dive series examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the medtech industry, published one year after the start of the crisis.

With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the country, the number of Americans getting tested has dropped significantly since January, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

While labs and other testing sites in January completed an average of almost 1.9 million tests per day, the average daily testing dropped to 1.5 million in February and 1.3 million in early March.  

“Right now, one of the factors that we’re faced with is reduction in testing in part because the testing that’s being done in some of the public health jurisdictions is being supplanted by vaccinations,” said Mary Hayden, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Rush University Medical Center. 

Hayden contends that public health authorities don’t have the bandwidth to simultaneously conduct widespread testing and administer vaccines, so they are focusing on the latter.

The decrease in test volumes has negatively impacted at least one diagnostics maker, with others no doubt to follow as they tally and report first-quarter results. 

Quidel last week lowered 2021 revenue guidance from $2.9 billion to roughly $2.5 billion, as the company has had to adjust for the “drop off” in U.S. COVID-19 testing demand in the first quarter. 

CEO Doug Bryant delivered the bad news at the virtual Barclays Global Healthcare Conference, reporting that test demand has plunged between 30% and 40% in February and March compared to the fourth quarter.     

“We didn’t see the continued level of demand for the symptomatic testing that we had in the fourth quarter,” Bryant said during last week’s Barclays event. “Fewer people are getting tested as a consequence of having symptoms.” 

However, public health experts warn that widespread COVID-19 testing is still critical to tracking and preventing the spread of the virus, including symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, as well as the detection of new variants and their impact on vaccines and immunity. 

“If we don’t test, we don’t know how much infection is there. And while the infection rates are much lower, they’re still high. In many places, they’re higher than they were over the summer,” said Hayden. “We’re still seeing a good amount of infection and we’re not at a place yet where we can relax our overall strategies and reduce testing.”  

Whether COVID-19 testing will return to earlier levels, particularly as vaccines are more widely distributed, remains an open question. Undaunted, Abbott Laboratories and Quidel are both ramping up their manufacturing capabilities for cranking out tests. 

Alireza Onghaei
علیرضا عنقایی

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