In February 2022, Bianca Fortis of ProPublica made multiple attempts to speak with White House officials about the Biden administration’s Pandemic Testing Board, which was developed shortly after President Biden’s inauguration. Fortis, however, received few details about how the plan would help curb the pandemic. The board was designed to expand testing measures via increased manufacturing and lab capacity. Biden compared the executive order to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1942 War Production Board, which was created to increase production and allocate resources for the war. Biden claimed this plan would enable the United States government to “produce and distribute tens of millions of tests.” Yet by December 2021, Press Secretary Jen Psaki practically scoffed at the idea of Americans receiving free tests.
By that time, tests were in short supply following a rejected proposal to send rapid tests to every American household. As the Omicron variant reached its peak, lack of access to free testing options disproportionately affected communities of color.
Following President Biden’s executive order to put the “full force of the federal government” behind expanded testing, there have been no press releases, hearings, or announcements in regards to the Pandemic Testing Board. Public health experts told Fortis that they, too, haven’t received any information outlining the testing board’s course of action.
“The Pandemic Testing Board serves as the forum where agencies across the federal government which are involved in testing can describe emerging challenges and what they are learning,” a representative for the Department of Health and Human Services told Fortis. “It provides a mechanism for addressing policy and implementation issues regarding the supply and distribution of tests, as well as increasing access to and affordability of tests in the community.”
The Biden administration has been slow to roll out the initiative, citing issues with funding, yet in 2019 and 2020, the administration earmarked $48 billion, as part of the stimulus package, to advance testing and contact tracing efforts. However, it is unclear exactly how that money was spent.
“There are a lot of indications that the federal government and state governments are understanding the power of the information that tests bring,” said Mara Aspinall, an advisor to the Rockefeller Foundation. “What we can’t repeat is the error of last spring thinking [the pandemic] was over and therefore not continuing to focus.”
In January 2021, USA Today applauded President Biden’s proactiveness, citing the Pandemic Testing Board as evidence of a step in the right direction. A month prior, CNN doled out a lukewarm criticism of Biden’s empty campaign promises, such as the Pandemic Testing Board, and ultimately concluded that testing shortages were largely out of the administration’s control. Finally, in February 2022, the New York Times highlighted supply shortages which stymied the rollout of the 500 million free rapid tests promised by President Biden’s administration. The Pandemic Testing Board was mentioned briefly, calling its progress “invisible.” As of April 2022, there has been no corporate coverage investigating funding for the Pandemic Testing Board nor the success of the plan beyond more recent rapid testing.
Source: Bianca Fortis, “Whatever Happened to Biden’s Pandemic Testing Board?,” ProPublica, February 16, 2022.
Student Researchers: Anna Murray, Brady Buckman, Kira Levenson, Suhyun Shin (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)