Aly Morici, Abbott’s chief executive, who takes on the challenges in the US, said in an email that it was “hard to scale on a dime, but we’re doing it again.” She acknowledged that “there will be some supply restrictions in the coming weeks.”
Abbott this month invited workers at the Maine plant to meet what it described in a letter as “unexpected production needs.” But it is unclear how many employees will return. They would not be paid for weeks for not doing work, as foreseen in their severance packages, with only a two-week “thank you” extension and no guarantee that their jobs will last.
The company was not in this position at the beginning of 2020. Anticipating the need for fast, reliable testing that did not require specialized equipment, Abbott assembled a team of approximately 100 scientists, supply chain experts and engineers to design BinaxNOW in a highly compressed time frame. “Everyone was working non-stop,” said Mr. Ford. “This is ultimately what Abbott was built for.”
The test strip, which is similar to the one on a pregnancy stick, is less sensitive than PCR but delivers results on the spot, allowing a company or school to take immediate action.
The FDA granted an emergency clearance to BinaxNOW last August. A day later, the US government announced plans to buy 150 million of the tests for $760 million — $5 per test, plus shipping — for use in settings such as nursing homes and schools.
The Friendship Public Charter School in Washington received 20,000 free government-purchased BinaxNOW tests as part of a pilot program supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Patricia A. Brantley, the school’s principal, said 70 percent of the students’ parents chose to be tested weekly. Children from 3 years old submitted to a nose wipe in exchange for a sticker. “Testing is still an important part of the strategy, not only to reopen schools, but also to keep them open,” said Ms Brantley. .
Northwestern University also adopted BinaxNOW early and tested students twice a week. The university conducted up to 5,000 rapid tests per day, according to Luke Figora, the school’s vice president of operations.