HHS Pilots Fast Molecular POC Test for COVID-19 Used in NBA Bubble
November 18, 2020
Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Texas Receive First
Shipments of Test Used in NBA Bubble
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched a pilot
program with five states to use portable, cartridge-based COVID-19
molecular test kits that provide rapid results. The pilot program will
assess how to best integrate diagnostic technology developed by Cue
Health, Inc., into strategies for disease surveillance and infection
control in institutions such as nursing homes.
Used successfully as the primary molecular point-of-care (POC) test to
control the spread of COVID-19 within in the National Basketball
Association “bubble,” as well as by leading healthcare providers in the
U.S., the nasal swab POC test generates results in about 20 minutes.
Currently, molecular COVID-19 tests provided by HHS must be sent to a
laboratory for interpretation, which can take two to three days.
During the week of November 9, HHS distributed 27,000 test kits, which
include the Cue Sample Wand (nasal swabs) and the Cue COVID-19 Test
Cartridges, and 600 Cue Health Monitoring Systems (Cartridge Readers) as
follows: 4,500 test kits and 100 cartridge readers each to Florida,
Louisiana, New Jersey, and Texas, and 9,000 test kits and 200 cartridge
readers to Alaska. Alaska received a greater quantity of components due
to the remote nature of access to testing. The tests will also be used
internally at the Department of Defense (DOD).
“The Cue Health testing system will undoubtedly be a valuable addition
to our testing ecosystem,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health ADM
Brett Giroir, M.D. “Having a highly specific and sensitive POC molecular
test could dramatically improve infection control at nursing homes and
other institutional settings especially.”
Currently, HHS sends millions of point-of-care rapid antigen tests that
have emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) to states, nursing homes, and others. These antigen
tests, which detect specific proteins from the SARS CoV-2 virus, are
inexpensive (free from the federal government) and provide same-day
results – often within minutes.
Antigen tests are critical for quickly identifying people who are
infected. They are used in nursing homes and other congregate care
settings in which staff must be tested frequently for infection control.
Although they are highly accurate, antigen tests can have false
positives. In some cases -- for example, when an antigen test gives a
positive result for a person in a low incidence area who does not have
symptoms or known exposure – the results are verified by a molecular
Similarly, a person with a negative result where there is a high
incidence of infection, might have a follow-up molecular test to confirm
the results. The laboratory-based molecular tests – which HHS has also
provided to states – may take two to three days; therefore, the person
tested would be required to isolate until the results are confirmed or,
in the case of a false negative, risk infecting patients, colleagues,
family members, or others.
“Our strategy continues to be to get the right test to the right person
at the right time,” Giroir added. “We recommend that nursing homes and
other institutions follow a layered approach to testing – using rapid,
inexpensive, and frequent point-of-care tests for screening staff and
verifying the results with more sophisticated molecular tests when the
“With Cue’s COVID-19 Test, verifying the antigen test results can be
done on the spot in many cases,” he added. “The pilot program will help
us determine how well the Cue test will be adapted in institutions and
The pilot program is part of a $481 million contract with Cue Health,
Inc., awarded October 13 by HHS in collaboration with the Department of
Defense (DoD). The public-private partnership enables Cue to expand its
industrial base and increase domestic production to 100,000 COVID-19
test kits per day by March 2021. The contract includes delivery of 6
million COVID-19 tests and 30,000 cartridge readers to the U.S.
government to support the domestic COVID-19 response.
The Cue COVID-19 Test detects the virus’s ribonucleic acid (RNA), or
genetic material. A trained health professional takes a sample from the
lower part of the nose using the Cue Sample Wand nasal swab. The swab is
then inserted into the Cue COVID-19 Test Cartridge, which is coupled to
the Cue Health Monitoring System (Cue Cartridge Reader). After the
cartridge reader analyzes the specimen, the device transmits the results
to the Cue Health App on a connected mobile smart device.
Cue COVID-19 Test received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on June 10, 2020. The test is
performed by a health professional under the supervision of an
authorized laboratory operating under a CLIA Certificate of Waiver,
Certificate of Compliance, or Certificate of Accreditation. The test has
been authorized only for the detection of nucleic acid from SARSCoV-2,
not for any other viruses or pathogens, and only for the duration of
emergency use declaration.
The Cue Health platform was developed and validated with funding awarded
by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA),
part of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and
Response (ASPR), starting in 2018 for the development of a molecular
influenza test, with the option to expand the effort to include
coronaviruses on March 31, 2020, BARDA announced its $13.6 million
collaboration with Cue to accelerate the development, validation and
manufacturing of Cue’s COVID-19 test.
This effort is being led by the DOD’s Joint Program Executive Office for
Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND), in
coordination with the DOD Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF) and funded
through the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health to enable
and support domestic production of critical medical resources.