CVS, Walgreens pledge to ramp up COVID-19 testing efforts as White House takes aim at reopening economy

The White House unveiled COVID-19 testing and tracing guidance Monday evening, with buy-in from many of the nation's largest pharmacy chains.

The Trump administration touted its new blueprint as a partnership between the federal government, states and the private sector. The eight-step plan aims to assist states in reopening their economies, an issue of urgent interest to the president.

The plan is divided into three segments: "launch," "scale" and "support opening up again."

At a briefing Monday, administration officials took credit for seven of eight steps, including the significant expansion of private-sector testing capabilities and growing the supply chain for testing supplies.

According to the presentation (PDF), the feds are now assisting states in developing testing plans and rapid response efforts. Their plan leaves much of the work up to states and argues the Trump administration should operate as a "supplier of last support" for tests.

The White House also said that more than 5.4 million COVID-19 tests have been performed in the past 45 days.

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At the briefing, representatives from major pharmacy chains including CVS Health, Walgreens, Walmart and Kroger pledged to significantly boost their use of self-swab COVID-19 tests.

CVS said it will have 1,000 testing locations open by the end of May that can process 1.5 million tests per month, if the lab capacity and supplies are available. 

CEO Larry Merlo said the companies are all striving for the same goal.

"We all share the same goal, and that's dramatically increasing the frequency and efficiency of testing so we can slow the spread of the virus and start to responsibly reopen the economy when experts tell us it's safe," Merlo said.

Walgreens said it will be opening additional drive-thru testing locations in 49 states and Puerto Rico and announced a partnership with LabCorp that the pharmacy chain said should triple its testing capacity.

Walgreens will work with the administration to establish the new testing sites, which it says will allow it to test 50,000 people weekly.

LabCorp will also have COVID-19 antibody tests at more than 100 Walgreens locations starting Monday.

“We’re continuing to make steady progress on our efforts to expand COVID-19 testing, and are proud to join others in the industry to help bring more testing resources to communities across the U.S., with an immediate focus on underserved communities,” said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens' president. “This public-private partnership remains critical to keeping our communities healthy and enabling more Americans to return to work once they can do so safely."

Walmart currently operates 45 testing sites but is looking to rapidly grow that figure because of the retailer's wide reach, Dan Bartlett, executive vice president of corporate affairs, wrote in a blog post.