Rapid virus tests arrive in Atlanta as tests intensify slowly


CVS Health opened a driving coronavirus screening center in Atlanta on Monday that the company says can deliver results in minutes. A Sandy Springs laboratory that has developed its own testing protocol, meanwhile, said it would have the capacity to process thousands of samples per day for clients such as major healthcare systems and rural hospitals.

Announcements come as cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, climb and Georgia continues to rank near the bottom nationally in per capita tests, according to an analysis from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution .

»FULL COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

The state is committed to increasing testing capacity, and announced last week a partnership between the University System of Georgia, Emory University and state agencies, which is also expected to significantly increase processing capacity for tests. The state public health laboratory and facilities at the University of Augusta, the state of Georgia, and Emory are expected to start processing up to 3,000 tests a day soon, provided that the state can get enough supplies.

Tests remain rationed in Georgia for people who are very sick and most at risk of infection, such as residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes, and those on the front line of emergencies, such as than medical personnel and first responders.
And it’s unclear when the tests could be made available to a wider segment of the public.

CVS has stated that its Georgia Tech parking lot will be able to test up to 1,000 people a day. Patients must be pre-registered on the CVS website and have a scheduled appointment to receive a test. The tests are only administered to patients who meet the guidelines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which generally meet state restrictions.


The tests will be made available free of charge to all registered patients, regardless of their insurance status.

“Increased access to rapid tests remains one of our priorities to identify more cases, provide Georgians with the care they need and prevent new infections in our communities,” said Governor Brian Kemp in a press release.

CVS chief medical officer Dr. Troyen Brennan said the Georgia Tech test site will operate five access routes. The company is rolling out Abbott ID Now test devices that can return results in minutes.

“The important thing is that people find out now rather than three, four, five, six, seven days from the test results,” Brennan told the AJC.
A national shortage of test kits and other supplies and limited laboratory processing capacity has led to rationing of coronavirus tests in Georgia and the United States. Long delays in treatment tests have also obscured the view of the virus’s progress in Georgia and other parts of the country. .

Some health systems and some patients have complained to the AJC about waiting a week or more for results.

Although the state’s Department of Public Health has stated that its lab can return results in 24 to 72 hours, the state lab only processes a fraction of the samples taken in Georgia. The overwhelming majority are processed by large national laboratories, which have experienced longer processing times.

By midday Monday, state and commercial labs had processed 31,274 tests in Georgia combined. Per capita, Georgia ranks 45th among the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, according to an AJJ analysis of COVID Tracking Project test data.

When the AJC did the same analysis on Wednesday, Georgia ranked 41st.
As of Monday noon, Georgia ranked 10th among deaths and 12th among confirmed cases. Louisiana, which has less than half of the Georgian population, processed twice as many tests. Utah, which has a third of the Georgian population, processed a similar number of samples.

Dr. Harry J. Heiman, associate clinical professor at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, said public and private labs have processed about 2,500 tests a day in the past week. It is far too little, he said.

“We need a more coordinated effort from the state to speed up testing, which we are still tragically behind,” he said.

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Augusta University and the state health laboratory have started to expand their capacity in recent days. A Kemp spokesperson said the state lab and Georgia state facilities “had created additional test kits from scratch and would release approximately 4,000 kits to support investigation of epidemics across the state.

FDA Licenses Local Laboratory

Ipsum Diagnostics, in Sandy Springs, obtained an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the United States Food and Drug Administration last week for a test protocol it developed in-house. The FDA only granted 28 EUAs for COVID-19 testing on Monday.

Lauren Bricks, co-founder and COO of Ipsum, said the company is working to secure contracts with major healthcare systems, rural hospitals and other institutions. She said Ipsum, which has about 30 employees, is capable of processing 4,000 tests a day, with round-the-clock processing. Ipsum can return results within 24 hours of receiving samples.

“The plan is that we will do it until it is not necessary,” she said.
Laboratory management saw the potential threat of COVID-19 to the United States in late January and began work on a test protocol. The CDC has developed its own test protocol, but Bricks said his team has recognized that there will be a rush of supplies from other laboratories to support the CDC test scheme and Ipsum has decided to develop one independently.

“We knew it was going to be a problem,” she said. “Everyone was going to get the same extraction kits and the same master mixer kits.”

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Ipsum obtained samples of the virus’s genome from a unit at the National Institutes of Health and spent weeks designing and testing its protocol to meet FDA EUA requirements. Ipsum has partnered with Omega Biotech from Norcross to obtain extraction kits to sample patients, said Bricks.

Ipsum’s test protocol is for a high-throughput system called QuantStudio 12K Flex, which allows the lab to process nearly 400 samples at a time. When Ipsum started its FDA application, the only protocol approved at the time was for a system that could process fewer than 100 samples at a time.

Bricks said laboratories across the country using the same equipment can use Ipsum protocols to start their own treatment.

“Every employee here puts their heart into it,” she said.

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