Rockefeller Foundation Donates $15 Million to Launch Massive COVID-19 Testing Plan

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The Rockefeller Foundation laid out its COVID-19 Testing Action Plan as a fundamental step to reopen the country.

Rajiv J. Shah, president of the foundation, stated, “While locking down our economy is crucial for saving lives now, it has tremendous consequences for the poorest among us—as people of color and low-income Americans are disproportionately losing livelihoods, and lives. In the face of an ineffective nationally coordinated response, insufficient data, and inadequate amounts of protective gear and testing, we need an exit plan.”

The foundation is in agreement with public health experts globally that the way out is through testing. Shah noted, “Instead of ricocheting between an unsustainable shutdown and a dangerous, uncertain return to normalcy, the United States must mount a sustainable strategy with better tests and contact tracing, and stay the course for as long as it takes to develop a vaccine or cure.”

The foundation’s action plan has three major objectives: launch a 1-3-30 plan to dramatically expand COVID-19 testing; launch a COVID Community Healthcare Corps for testing and contact tracing; and create a COVID-19 data commons and digital platform.

The 1-3-30 plan is to “rapidly expand testing capacity to 30 million tests per week over the next six months.” To do so, they propose creating an Emergency Network for COVID-19 Testing to coordinate and underwrite the testing market, launch an eight-week National Testing Laboratory Optimization Initiative to increase output to 3 million tests per week from the current one million and investing in a Testing Technology Accelerator to continue growing U.S. testing capacity from 3 million to 30 million tests per week.

As of April 18, 2020, only 3,698,534 tests have been completed in the U.S. The action plan notes, “In Taiwan, there have been 132 tests conducted for every confirmed case. In Australia, the number is 62. In the United States, it is five. The unfortunate conclusion from this comparison is that the country’s actual number of infections may be 15- to 20-times higher than the reported number of confirmed cases.”

The emergency network, or ENCT, will work with testing equipment, reagent and lab consumables manufacturers, along with national, state and local purchasers and distributors, to identify and resolve choke points in the test supply chain.

The COVID Community Healthcare Corps for testing and contact tracing will require “a massive amount of manpower that can be stood up in the next few weeks by federal, state and local hiring authorities with funding offered via block grants to states.” The plan calls for at least 100,000 people and perhaps up to 300,000 that need to be hired to “undertake a vigorous campaign of test administration and contact tracing.” This will also require a network of computer systems with regional and national viral datasets and electronic health records from local hospital systems.

The third stage is the COVID-19 Data Commons and Digital Platform, which would be used to identify and mitigate recurrent outbreaks and seek out the most promising therapies. It would support recent Department of Health and Human Services Federal and State collaboration.

To oversee this, they suggest a public/private bipartisan Pandemic Testing Board that can act as a bridge between local, state and federal officials.

Although the testing implementation would cost up to $100 billion to implement, the foundation notes that the country is already losing $300 to $400 billion in economic losses each month as a result of the pandemic. The faster the testing gets scaled up, the sooner the country can get back to whatever the new normal is likely to be.

“We do have the capacity to do that, and we’ve got the resources to do that,” said Michael Pellini, managing partner of health venture firm Section 32 and board member of the Personalized Medicine Coalition, who contributed to the plan. “Yes, it’s ambitious, but at this point we’ve got to do it. We have to fix testing in this country to enable our workforce to be deployed once again.”

The foundation is investing $15 million to help launch the effort.

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