SF startup begins offering home test for COVID-19

By Mike Moffitt, SFGATE
Updated

6:00 pm PDT, Friday, March 20, 2020

A transmission electron microscope captured this image of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which has a distinctive crown-like appearance. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. On Friday, March 20, 2020. A San Francisco telehealth startup launched a test it developed for COVID-19. Initially it will cost $181. less
A transmission electron microscope captured this image of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which has a distinctive crown-like appearance. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. On Friday, March 20, 2020. A … more

Photo: NIAID-RML

A transmission electron microscope captured this image of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which has a distinctive crown-like appearance. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. On Friday, March 20, 2020. A San Francisco telehealth startup launched a test it developed for COVID-19. Initially it will cost $181. less
A transmission electron microscope captured this image of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which has a distinctive crown-like appearance. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. On Friday, March 20, 2020. A … more

Photo: NIAID-RML

For more coverage, visit our complete coronavirus section here.

A San Francisco telehealth startup has launched an at-home COVID-19 test for people experiencing symptoms of the disease.

Nurx, which is known for its birth control and sexually transmitted infection testing, devoted all its resources in the last two weeks to ramping up production of the test after the federal Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for certified labs to provide testing for the novel coronavirus.

The company consulted with its lab partner, Washington state-based Molecular Testing Labs, frequently while developing the test.

The extent of COVID-19 infection in the United States remains unknown in the wake of the Trump’s administration’s failure to roll out widespread and accessible testing. The nation has lagged behind every other country with a high proportion of coronavirus cases, testing fewer than 28,000 people as recently as Sunday. That number has improved through the week. On Friday afternoon, the COVID-19 Tracking Project reported that 138,500 people had been tested.

“It’s better than nothing, for sure,” Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, told STAT. “But we’re two months late. It’s a small attempt to help a little bit. It’s not worthless, but it’s so little, so late, it’s embarrassing.”

People who want to be tested can use Nurx’s mobile app or website and fill out a survey inquiring about their symptoms.

“We don’t look for the severity of symptoms, only the presence of them. They can range from mild to severe,” said Nurx spokeswoman Allison Hoffman in an email. “But, people with truly severe symptoms should also seek immediate care … In terms of temperature in particular, we determine a fever is 100.4 plus.”

A Nurx provider reviews the questionnaire responses and decides if testing is warranted. If it is, a test kit is sent to the patient via expedited shipping. The patient completes the test, including taking a throat swab and returns it to Molecular Testing Labs. The lab then runs a polymerase chase reaction (PCR) test to determine if the patient has COVID-19.

Hoffman said results should be available within 48 hours of the lab getting the sample.

The service currently costs $181, including shipping charges. Hoffman said Nurx does not bill insurance for the test but encourages patients to submit receipts to their insurance plan for partial reimbursement.

Nurx is initially focusing on people who have been directly exposed to the virus — “people who work in hospitals, nursing homes, medical clinics and schools or daycare facilities,” Hoffman said.

“For those who are at high risk, our clinical team will be recommending in-person care,” she added.

Nurx attributes the fast turnaround on developing the test to its experience with in home testing paired with online consultations and its close relationship with Molecular Testing Labs, which is Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) accredited and College of American Pathologists (CAP) licensed.

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Mike Moffitt is an SFGATE Digital Reporter. Email: moffitt@sfgate.com. Twitter: @Mike_at_SFGate

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