New COVID-19 test kits that return results in as little as 15 minutes could be deployed in Idaho and Washington as early as next week.

The federal government recently purchased 150 million of the Abbott BinaxNOW test kits and is making them available to states, tribal governments and other jurisdictions.

Idaho received 35,000 of the kits Thursday, with another 530,000 are scheduled to arrive in the next three months. Washington expects to receive 149,000 in the immediate future, and as much as 2.3 million by the end of the year.

“These tests are inexpensive, simple to use, more than 95 percent accurate and give results in an astounding 15 minutes,” Idaho Gov. Brad Little said during a news conference in Boise on Thursday.

Public school teachers and staff will be first in line for the kits, at least initially.

“Many long-term care facilities have already received the test,” Little said. “I’m prioritizing schools to be the primary recipients of the new rapid test. This will be a game-changer for schools. With the new tests, we can quickly determine who has or doesn’t have COVID-19, so teachers and students can get back in the classroom.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said the test kits were designed to be used for people who are symptomatic, meaning those who show signs of having the virus. However, the federal government is also allowing them to be used for “surveillance” testing, to try to determine what percentage of a population has the virus but doesn’t exhibit symptoms.

“We’re working on the protocol for that,” she said. “We hope to get that out with the tests (next week).”

The Washington Department of Health said its first batch of 149,000 test kits will be distributed to community health centers, tribal clinics and critical access hospitals. A plan for distribution of future shipments is in development.

During Thursday’s news conference, Little indicated that Idaho would remain in Stage 4 of the state’s four-phase reopening plan for another two weeks. That’s because of the high number of new cases, a positive test rate that’s higher than what health officials would like, and hospital capacity constraints in parts of the state.

Little also announced the creation of a new COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine Advisory Committee, to help advise him on what steps to take once a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.

William L. Spence can be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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