White House relied on rapid test to keep virus out – it didn’t

This article is more than 12 months old

ID Now test, which had reported false negatives, gave staff 'false sense of security': Expert

WASHINGTON: Early in the coronavirus pandemic, US President Donald Trump put his faith in a toaster-sized machine that could spit out test results in a matter of minutes.

In late March, Mr Trump hailed the launch of Abbott Laboratories' ID Now test at a Rose Garden event and embraced its widespread use at the White House to keep the deadly virus at bay. His strategy was no match for the virus.

The President announced last Friday that both he and his wife, Melania, tested positive for Covid-19.

"The reliance on a rapid test, with its limitations, unfortunately gave the White House and its staff a false sense of security that they were in control of the virus," said professor of infectious diseases William Schaffner at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

"You cannot rely on that test to create a barrier between you and the virus," he said, adding that people "have to wear masks, do social distancing and not go to all these rallies".

While rapid tests can help contain the spread of a highly contagious virus, they were not designed to be used in isolation.

A negative result merely captures a snapshot in time and does not guard against infection soon after. And a person may be infectious for days before the amount of virus in their body registers positive on a test.

Assistant professor Krutika Kuppalli, an expert on infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, said not enough is known about how these rapid tests perform in people who are asymptomatic.

"Trump was playing with fire and it was really a matter of time before something like this was going to happen," she said. "Even if Trump had been around someone who was sick, wearing a mask could have prevented him from getting the virus."

An Abbott spokesman said the company's ID Now test - used by more than 11 million Americans since regulators approved it for emergency use in March - yields reliable results.

The company referred questions about its use in the White House to the Trump administration.

"In a pandemic, the world needs all types of testing for different settings and stages of the virus, including lab-based testing and rapid point-of-care testing," Abbott said in a statement.


The US Food and Drug Administration acknowledged there were concerns about "potential inaccurate results" from ID Now in May.

It had received 302 "adverse event" reports as of Sept 30, including reports of false negatives - results showing patients were not infected when they actually were.

In its authorisation of ID Now for emergency use, updated last month, the FDA warned that more testing may be warranted to confirm initial results.

Emboldened by regular testing of himself and those in close proximity, Mr Trump continued to hold large campaign rallies and events with donors where masks were optional.

Now, the fallout from the White House's focus on testing as a precaution could extend far beyond the president and his wife, experts say.

"I expect we will see more positive cases" connected to the White House, Dr Kuppalli said.

"I pray that doesn't happen." - REUTERS