Free COVID Testing Helps Lab Develop Rapid Self Test

Miami Lakes blood center collects three samples from each person who wants free COVID testing -- and the results will help another company test equipment it hopes will lead to a rapid test kit.

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The race is on to develop a home coronavirus test kit that's fast and accurate.

And that long journey to what would be a huge leap in testing capacity and capability may begin with a single step, onto a bloodmobile bus in the parking lot of the Miami Lakes Youth Center and picnic park.

That's where Innovative Transfusion Medicine (ITM), a non-profit Miami Lakes blood center, is collecting three samples from anyone who wants free COVID testing.

They produce antibody results in 15 minutes and they say molecular PCR and antigen test results will be given to the clients within three to five days.

But those who submit to nasal swabs, submit saliva and have blood collected for, respectively, the PCR, antigen and antibody tests are doing more than finding out if they are or were infected.

A company seeking to get emergency use authorization from the federal government for a self-administered antigen test will use those samples to validate their technology.

The need is clear, says ITM vice president Ralph Aleman.

"We need more testing. We need to find out more. We need to have better studies. We need to have better accuracy on tests and we also need a better turnaround time when we do testing," he said.

While PCR tests are considered the gold standard to learn if the virus is present in the nasal cavity, antigen tests are not as accurate, said FIU epidemiologist professor Dr. Aileen Marty, noting the state several weeks ago began combining PCR and antigen test results in its reports.

"When you combine those scores you get a falsely reduced level of percent positivity in the community," she said.

When experts say they want to see rates dropping to around five percent before certain social activities resume, "we're talking about percent positivity using only highly sophisticated molecular testing," Marty said. "Today, the positivity rate being reported is a mix of molecular testing and antigen testing and antigen tests have many false negatives."

So the company receiving specimens from ITM -- which the blood center declined to identify -- can use its experimental technology to test the saliva for the antigen produced by the coronavirus and compare that result to the highly accurate PCR test.

If they do not match, the technology has produced a false negative or a false positive -- not good.

Abbott Laboratories this week announced it received emrgency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for an antigen test that is more than 95% accurate.

But, rather than test saliva, it uses nose swabs that, like with PCR tests, have to be administered by a professional.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) on Friday asked the Trump administration to make sure the state gets its fair share of the 150 million Abbott tests the government says it will purchase, at $5 a pop.

In Miami Lakes, Aleman is hoping the company, which is paying ITM for the samples it collects, will advance the technology further.

"It's very important to develop these test kits," he said. "Without these test kits, I think our numbers are not going to be able to drop. We need to have better accuracy on these test kits and get them all validated."

The free tests are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the parking lot of the Miami Lakes Youth Center at 6075 Miami Lakes Drive. Aleman said it will resume Monday and he hopes it can continue there, or elsewhere in the city, indefinitely.

Those who have been infected and qualify can also donate plasma, used to boost the immune systems of those sick with COVID.

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