Nearly four months after closing an Illinois facility that made rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests, Abbott Laboratories now plans to restart production there amid a surge in demand for the tests.
Production of Abbott’s BinaxNOW tests is expected to begin at the facility in the coming weeks, said spokesman Scott Stoffel in an email. The company is now hiring people for temporary positions, with pay starting at $20 an hour and priority given to those who previously worked for Abbott, he said.
Before Abbott closed the Gurnee, Ill., facility in June, 2,000 people worked there. Stoffel declined to say how many people will work at the facility now.
In June, Stoffel said Abbott decided to halt production of the tests in Gurnee because, “We’ve recently seen a significant, rapid decline in COVID-19 testing demand, and anticipate this trend will continue.”
That, however, was before the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 became dominant across the country. Since then, cases of the illness have again spiked in Illinois and elsewhere, and it’s become clear that even vaccinated people can spread the virus and should be tested when sick or exposed to COVID-19.
The resurgence of COVID-19 has led to increased demand for COVID-19 tests, including at-home tests such as BinaxNOW. Walgreens and CVS Health are limiting the number of at-home COVID-19 tests customers can buy to deal with that demand.
“As demand for COVID-19 testing has increased, we have acted quickly to scale up again,” Stoffel said. He noted that Abbott is hiring “a number of people,” mostly for temporary positions across its manufacturing sites.
The facility in Gurnee was not the only one to stop producing the BinaxNOW tests earlier this year. The New York Times recently reported that employees at an Abbott facility in Maine were told to discard testing materials as production there wound down during the summer.
Abbott said in a response to that article, “We have not destroyed any finished BinaxNOW product, nor have we destroyed any usable test components needed by the market that could have been donated.”
The BinaxNOW test is a portable antigen test that’s about the size of a credit card. Its design is similar to that of some pregnancy tests. A person can swab his or her nose at home and then twirl the sample on a test card with a testing reagent added. Fifteen minutes later, a result appears on the testing card, with one line indicating a negative result and two lines a positive one.
An antigen test is one type of test that can detect the virus. Antigen tests detect specific proteins on the surface of the virus. Another type, molecular tests such as polymerase chain reaction tests, called PCR tests, find genetic material from the virus.
In general, antigen tests are not as sensitive as molecular tests, meaning “negative results from an antigen test may need to be confirmed with a molecular test prior to making treatment decisions,” according to an FDA news release on Abbott’s test.
Many schools and day cares, for example, do not accept antigen test results as proof that a child does not have COVID-19 and can return to class. But public health leaders including Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady have praised at-home tests for their convenience.
Abbott’s BinaxNOW is not the only at-home COVID-19 test with emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Other tests with authorization include the QuickVue and Ellume tests, among others.