The Seattle area, a center of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, may soon get at-home test kits, thanks to funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to a report.
The kits would be distributed within hours to individuals who report online that they believe they may have contracted COVID-19, the Seattle Times reported Sunday. Those people would swab their noses and send the samples to a laboratory, which would make results available in a day or two. Local health officials will be notified if the outcome is positive.
“Although there’s a lot to be worked out, this has enormous potential to turn the tide of the epidemic,” Scott Dowell, leader of coronavirus response at the Seattle-based Gates Foundation, told the Times.
As of last week, Washington state had reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Of the country’s 164 confirmed cases, 70 were in Washington, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Testing is key for health officials to properly treat ailing patients and control the coronavirus spread, experts have said. Tests the U.S. government began distributing to states last month were faulty and overly complicated. Though the government has since said it’s speeding the delivery of new tests with looser requirements, many states and cities have begun developing their own.
The new Seattle-area testing initiative will work with another local virus-monitoring program, the Seattle Flu Study, which sends flu testing kits to people in order to help map the spread of seasonal flu. The study receives technical consultation from experts with the Gates Foundation, as well as financial support by Bill Gates’ private office, Gates Ventures, according to the study’s website.
The Seattle Flu Study late last month said it has begun testing for the new coronavirus in hopes of finding “new approaches to the prevention, response and treatment of infectious diseases.”
“As a research organization, we are not able to diagnose individuals with COVID-19. However, we will be analyzing some of our research samples for COVID-19 to better understand community circulation of this virus,” the study said in a statement. “If we find any samples that have COVID-19 detected in them, we will work closely with public health partners to determine appropriate next steps.”
A Gates Foundation spokesperson, reached by HuffPost on Monday, confirmed the organization’s effort to help detect COVID-19 cases in the Seattle area with the Seattle Flu Study, but declined to comment further on the testing kits because most of the work had not been finalized.
“Our team has and will continue to actively explore ways that we can contribute to local response through the application of the study,” the spokesperson said.
The Gates Foundation last week pledged $5 million toward helping the Seattle region’s public health agencies detect the virus. It also committed up to $100 million last month toward helping the global response.
“Early detection plays an essential role in helping public health authorities identify and treat people with COVID-19, take steps to safely isolate them and reduce transmission within the community,” Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said in a statement.
The Seattle area also has begun a novel program testing health care workers for coronavirus. The sprawling UW Medicine system provides drive-thru COVID-19 clinics that tests its workers who think they’re sick with the virus without ever leaving their car, as NPR reported Sunday.
Employees having symptoms of the disease drive up to a medical tent in a hospital garage and submit a swab to a nurse through their car window. The test results come back within a day or so.
“We want to make sure that if our staff test negative we get them back to work as soon as we can,” Dr. Seth Cohen, who runs the infectious disease clinic at UW Medical Center Northwest, told NPR. “But if they test positive we want to keep them out of the workforce to make sure they’re not going on to infect other staff or patients.”