Demand is high for rapid coronavirus tests and companies are scrambling to meet it
WASHINGTON — Speed and accuracy are key features when screening for coronavirus.
Quidel Corp. is one of a handful of U.S. companies authorized to sell a rapid test for COVID-19, yielding results in about 15 minutes. The test is run on a small machine that is used in clinics and doctor offices. Unlike some other quick tests, U.S. regulators have ruled that Quidel’s test is nearly as accurate as older tests that take hours to run in a laboratory, known as the PCR test.
The Associated Press spoke with Quidel’s CEO Douglas Bryant about the company’s technology and the prospects for boosting U.S. testing in coming months. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: When does it make the most sense to use a rapid test like Quidel’s?
A: If you’re at an urgent care clinic where you present with symptoms and you’re within five days of the onset of symptoms, then this product is going to agree with that PCR test 96.7% of the time. So in that particular case, it’s really good.
If you’re actually in the hospital and you’re sick and time is not an issue — why not do the more sensitive product and run the PCR test? Because you’re not going anywhere. You’re in the hospital.
So the advantage is speed and cost. The disadvantage, relative to other technologies, is it relies on a certain concentration of the virus being present. So it’s not as sensitive as a molecular test. We make both, by the way.
Q: What’s the demand like for the rapid tests right now?
A: The demand right now, in terms of just the orders from our traditional market, is about four times what we’re able to supply. We’re making about 1.9 million of these tests per week. I should be at 3.8 million tests per week early in the first quarter of next year. And then the funding that we got from the (National Institutes of Health) is meant to bring forward another two manufacturing lines. So theoretically we would have just under 6 million tests per week by the middle of next year.
Q: How much more testing is the country going to need to do going forward?
A: We’ve got the testing we’re doing now and that’s quite large. We’re still not meeting the demand from the traditional segment. These are people who come in contact with somebody and now they want to be tested or they actually have symptoms.
But on top of that, we have 76 million school kids. Are we going to need to test them frequently? Is it weekly or is it every other week? And then you’ve got various industries like cruise lines. There are 26 million people that ordinarily would be on a cruise during a year. Nobody’s doing it now. And frankly, I don’t know that I would go on one unless I felt safe. And the only way I’m going to feel safe is if I know everybody on the ship has been tested and tested negative.
You start adding up all the people that need to be tested frequently: nuclear plant employees, food handlers of any sort, people working in restaurants. The numbers are staggering if you think about it.