Virginia took initial steps Tuesday to build out its COVID-19 testing program as it announced it has joined forces with five other states and the Rockefeller Foundation to purchase 500,000 rapid antigen tests each from Becton Dickinson and Quidel.

Testing in Virginia has improved dramatically since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when it ranked near the bottom of the United States ranks in terms of testing per capita. The commonwealth still ranks in the bottom half of states at No. 34 in tests per capita, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation but it has an average of 8% of its tests as positive, the same number as the U.S. as a whole. The state also ranks No. 15 for total tests conducted with 1,271,174.

Tuesday’s announcement is meant to signal to private companies that states are interested in new testing products and are willing to partner with them to see new technology enter the market.

“By joining together, states are demonstrating to private manufacturers that there is significant demand to scale up the production of these tests, which deliver results in 15 to 20 minutes,” the announcement from the governor’s office states. “Additional states, cities, and local governments may join the compact in the coming weeks.”

As Virginia ramps up its testing regime, there have been increased demands on private labs, driving wait times for results back up to early-pandemic levels. When patients are waiting more than a week for test results the efforts of testing and tracing methods are rendered null and void. Rapid tests may help fill a hole in that area and open the doors for a return to normal life, including allowing children to return to schools with the confidence they are not entering buses and classrooms while carrying the virus.

For all the positive signs new rapid testing can bring, there are still concerns about the methodology. The Becton Dickinson and Quidel tests are approved by the Food and Drug Administration but are one of the few that are.

According to the FDA, rapid diagnostic antigen tests are more likely to miss active cases than a molecular test. The FDA says, “positive results are usually highly accurate but negative results may need to be confirmed with a molecular test.”

Virginia’s partnership with Maryland, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio comes on the heels of the Trump administration announcing its intent to cut funding for continued testing expansion.

“The states are leading America’s national response to COVID-19,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a written statement. “We are bringing together this bipartisan, multi-state coalition to combine our purchasing power and get rapid testing supplies to our communities as quickly as possible. The people in our six states want to see action, and together, we’re delivering.”

On Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Health announced it had recorded 1,145 new cases, 67 new hospitalizations and 26 new deaths, bringing its totals to 94,251 cases, 8,085 hospitalizations and 2,244 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Total figures include 3,523 probable cases, 48 probable hospitalizations and 110 probable deaths.

The state reported it conducted 7,748 new detection tests and the seven-day average positivity rate moved up slightly to 7.2% from 7.1% Monday.

The Lord Fairfax Health District reported it had 12 new cases, one new hospitalization and no new deaths Tuesday, bringing its total to 2,505 cases, 217 hospitalizations and 85 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Total figures include 284 probable cases, one probable hospitalization and seven probable deaths.

Local cases

Shenandoah County reported it has had 685 cases, 71 hospitalizations and 42 deaths.

Frederick County reported it has had 672 cases, 50 hospitalizations and nine deaths.

Winchester City reported it has had 394 cases, 31 hospitalizations and four deaths.

Warren County reported it has had 351 cases, 22 hospitalizations and six deaths.

Page County reported it has had 334 cases, 36 hospitalizations and 24 deaths.

Clarke County reported it has had 69 cases, seven hospitalizations and no deaths.

Contact Max Thornberry at mthornberry@nvdaily.com