Addressing the challenges ahead in the U.S., Abbott’s public affairs director, Aly Morici, said in an email that it was “difficult to scale up on a dime, but we’re doing so again.” She acknowledged that “there will be some supply constraints over the coming weeks.”
Abbott invited workers back to the plant in Maine this month to meet what it described in a letter as “unexpected manufacturing needs.” But it is unclear how many employees will return. They would forgo weeks of being paid for doing no work, as provided for in their severance packages, with only a two-week “thank you” pay extension and no guarantee that their jobs will last.
The company was not in this position in early 2020. Anticipating the need for quick, reliable tests that required no specialized equipment, Abbott assembled a team of about 100 scientists, supply-chain experts and engineers to design BinaxNOW in a highly compressed time frame. The company took risks, importing expensive equipment and opening two U.S. factories. “Everybody was working nonstop,” Mr. Ford said. “This is ultimately what Abbott was built for.”
The test strip, resembling 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 F.D.A. granted BinaxNOW emergency authorization last August. A day later, the U.S. government announced plans to buy 150 million of the tests for $760 million — $5 a test, plus shipping — to be used in settings including nursing homes and schools.
Friendship Public Charter School in Washington received 20,000 government-purchased BinaxNOW tests free of charge as part of a pilot program supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Patricia A. Brantley, the school’s chief executive, said that 70 percent of students’ parents opted in for them to get swabbed once a week. “Testing is still an important part of the strategy not only to reopen schools but to keep them open,” Ms. Brantley said.
Northwestern University also adopted BinaxNOW early, testing students twice a week. The university performed up to 5,000 rapid tests a day, according to Luke Figora, the school’s vice president for operations.