The state of testing for the novel coronavirus currently spreading globally in the U.S. is abysmal, relative to other developed countries, but there are a number of efforts underway to help improve availability. One company doing their part is at-home lab testing startup Everlywell, which has been offering a number of in-home self collection kits for things like food sensitivity, metabolism, thyroid and more. As of Monday March 23, it'll also offer a COVID-19 sample collection kit for home use.
Everlywell's test kit includes swab-based collection equipment, as well as shipping materials that ensure safe transport of a person's sample as outlined by the CDC and UN Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods to help prevent any possible risk to mail carriers or couriers actually moving the packages. The samples collected are then tested by labs certified for COVID-19 testing under the FDA Emergency Use Authorization issued to help build out America's testing capacity.
The company also includes overnight shipping labels for the samples, and says that results will be available in a secure, online format within 48 hours. For anyone who tests positive, Everlywell will also be connecting them with certified physicians that can provide them with consultations and guidance via telehealth, and it notes that any positive results will also be sent to federal and state reporting agencies, as is currently required by mandate.
I asked Everlywell about the accuracy of these tests relative to other methods, and they noted that their at-home collection method have been validated by a number of peer-reviewed medical studies. Experts have been calling for use of at-home collection as one way to increase collection volume and lower the risk for front-line medical staff, too. The tests themselves are also all conducted at certified private labs, with results reviewed by board-certified physicians for accuracy.
Initially, Everlywell says it will have 30,000 at-home diagnostic kits available, though it hopes to eventually scale that to up to be able to offer tests to up to 250,000 people weekly. Getting to that target could "take several weeks" or even "a few months," however, according to the company, because of a global shortage of the nasopharyngeal swabs that are used in COVID-19 testing, which affects not only the startup's ability to produce test kits, but everyone else's as well. The company also says that it's working on potential validation of testing for the new coronavirus using different types of biological samples that would use different collection methods, in case of future approval of their use by health regulators.
Everlywell will have a screening process in place via their website, based on CDC guidelines, to determine who gets the kits. They also carry a $135 charge, which Everlywell says it sees no profit from, and which can also be covered by participating insurance providers. The company is also trying to see if it can provide them free of charge in partnership with government and public health partners.