US start-up to soon release home-testing kits for coronavirus

20 Mar 2020

Image: Everlywell

With concerns growing over the number of coronavirus testing kits available in the US, one start-up is hoping to offer a home-testing kit.

In an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus, a company called Everlywell in Austin, Texas, has announced plans to launch a home-testing kit for Covid-19 on 23 March.

Doctors and those working at screening centres have raised the alarm about a severe shortage of testing kits for the virus in the US. According to Time, testing kits had previously been limited to those provided by the US Centers for Disease Control but, given the shortage, on 29 February the FDA made it possible for commercial testing companies to release their own kits.

Future Human

Everlywell is one of the first companies to offer kits for Covid-19 testing directly to consumers, in addition to its existing tests for things such as STIs and cholesterol levels. Anyone looking to order the testing kit needs to answer questions on their basic health and what symptoms they have beforehand.

A doctor is also needed to prescribe the test, so a network of telemedicine doctors will review the answers given by the consumer. If one of these online doctors thinks the applicant is eligible, the $135 test will be sent out by Everlywell.

Limited supplies

The kit includes a swab used to take samples from the nose and back of the throat, in addition to backups of spit and sputum samples. However, swabs are currently the only validated samples by the FDA.

The start-up – founded in 2015 – said it can ship 30,000 coronavirus testing kits soon, with plans to expand the number of labs able to test for the virus.

A complication for attempts to scale up the supply of tests is that one of the start-up’s main swab producers is located in Italy, the country that has recorded the most deaths from coronavirus.

As a result, the first home-testing kit will come with just one swab and will be limited to one per household until supplies become stable.

“Our goal is to continue to refresh capacity, but with the global swab shortage we don’t have a confirmed timeline for that yet,” the company’s CEO, Julia Cheek, said.

Elsewhere, Irish company Assay Genie revealed it has developed its own coronavirus testing kit that can detect Covid-19 in as little as 15 minutes. While not for consumers, hospitals have contacted the company to obtain the tests once approved.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic