A cutout of former President John F. Kennedy occupies a seat next to seventh grader Reilly Sullivan at the Bruce M. Whittier Middle School, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, in Poland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine’s top health official said he is “disappointed” over a report that Abbott Laboratories destroyed millions of COVID-19 rapid testing kits that are used for frequent testing of schoolchildren, people who go into high-risk situations and during virus outbreaks.

The comment by Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah came during a news briefing Tuesday and follows a Friday report in The New York Times claiming the company destroyed BinaxNOW rapid tests in June and July as the pandemic waned and vaccinated people no longer required them.

The company, which has an operation in Westbrook that makes the tests, disputed the newspaper’s account, saying it did not destroy any finished BinaxNOW product or usable test components needed by the market that could have been donated.

“I’m eager to hear from Abbott exactly why it was the case that tests needed to be destroyed versus preserved and kept on the shelf for another period of time,” Shah said.

He added that he has not had direct conversations with Abbott, although Maine CDC’s director of testing operations has been in contact with the company to try to learn more. He said the tests, which produce results in about 10 minutes, have been instrumental in testing in Maine.

Shah flagged the state’s pooled testing program as one major concern over any destroyed tests. Maine began offering the optional program in K-12 schools in May. Groups of students or staff are tested in a batch once a week. If one pool comes back positive, all people whose samples are included are tested individually. The method allows more people to be tested using less resources, since fewer individual tests are needed.

The BinaxNOW test is used for frequent repeat testing to give health workers a better sense of how an outbreak is evolving, Shah said.

An Abbott spokesperson said the company chose to store individual components, many of which have been in short supply during the pandemic, in case it had to scale back up, which it is doing now.