Efforts to get at-home test kits for the COVID-19 coronavirus are ramping up quickly, and two more health industry startups are bringing their own products to market, with both Carbon Health and Nurx starting to ship their own in-home sample collection kits.
Both of these new offerings are the same in terms of approach to testing: They deliver swab-based sample collection hardware that people can use at home to collect a mucus sample, which they then ship back using included, safety approved, projective packaging to be tested by one of the existing FDA-approved commercial labs across the country.
These tests follow the PCR-based method, which tests for the genetic presence of the COVID-19 virus in a patient. These have a high degree of accuracy, at least when performed in a controlled setting and administered by a medical professional, and are the same tests that are available via drive-through testing stations being set up by state agencies.
At-home use is relatively new to market, and could introduce some potential for error in the collection part of the process, but both Carbon Health and Nurx are offering consultation with medical professionals to help ensure that samples are collected properly, and that results, when available, are correctly interpreted and provided with guidance on next steps for those taking the tests.
None of these tests are free -- the Carbon Health test costs $167.50, and the Nurx test costs $181, including shipping and assessment. These are in line with other offerings, including the one from Everlywell we covered earlier this week, which retails for $135. These are described as essentially at-cost prices, and all parties say they are subject to coverage by FSA or HSA money, or potentially by insurers depending on a person's plan.
One big question around these types of tests is how much supply will be available. Nasopharyngeal swabs used for the in-person type of testing are already reportedly in short supply in some regions, and testing needs are only growing. Carbon is using different swabs to collect a simple saliva sample, which it notes are not in as short supply as the nasopharyngeal version. Other types of tests, including a "serological" one being developed by startup Scanwell, instead work by analyzing a patient's blood, and could provide some relief for the swab-based tests, especially now that the FDA has expanded its emergency guidance to include their use.
Nurx, which also offers at-home HPV screening, says that it will have 10,000 kits available to patients "over the coming weeks," and hopes to expand to cover "over 100,000 patients" in the "near future." Carbon Health CEO and co-founder Eren Bali tells me that it should ramp to around "10,000 per day capacity in about two weeks," through its medical device partner Curative Inc., and that it can do 50 per day today, with an estimated increase to 150 per day by Monday and 1,000 per day by end of week.
All of these tests are gated by a screening and assessment questionnaire, and the round-trip time is likely to take a few days even with round-trip shipping due to testing times. It may seem like a lot of these are popping up, but these startups at least have proven track records in healthcare services, and there will be a need for very widespread testing in order for any broad attempt to flatten the curve of the virus to prove successful, so expect more of these providers to come on line.