LEHI — A multi-pronged effort launched last week to elevate the volume of COVID-19 testing in Utah has flown out of the gate.

The TestUtah.com program has, since debuting last Thursday afternoon, performed over 50,000 individual online assessments of Utah residents for potential COVID-19, referred over 2,600 respondents for testing, helped coordinate testing of over 1,500 of those people, and returned nearly 800 completed tests.

The effort, led by Utah tech advocacy group Silicon Slopes in partnership with the Utah Health Department, the state’s COVID-19 Task Force and Utah health care providers, has worked to fast-track COVID-19 assessments and testing with the mantra that the faster the state can assess and test everyone who needs it, the faster Utah can move to the recovery phase of the pandemic.

Utah tech companies aim to assess, test everyone, find COVID-19 hot spots

“This really tracks back to the Silicon Slopes community recognizing that we needed to bring our collective skill set to bear on COVID-19,” said Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts. “We got the ball rolling on the assessment website, supply chain issues and reached out to Gov. (Gary) Herbert, Lt. Gov. (Spencer) Cox, the health department and health care providers ... and it’s been this amazing collaboration that’s brought us to this point.”

This point includes two drive-thru testing centers in Utah County with two or three more likely to come online in the coming week, and a goal to have 10-15 testing centers functioning throughout the state in the next several weeks. Each site, Betts said, will have the capacity to collect 300-500 tests per day. And, thanks to a partnership with Salt Lake-based medical diagnostics company Co-Diagnostics, an ability to process all of those tests and return results within a 24-48 hour window.

Betts said the effort has caught the attention of governors from around the country who want to know how they can launch similar public-private partnerships in their own states.

“We’re getting a lot of inquiries, including from some of our biggest states, asking us how we can help them replicate the TestUtah.com model,” Betts said. “What we’re doing here is really unique ... and the key to it all has been an amazing collaboration.”

Betts said numerous Utah tech CEOs and staffers, along with state agencies and health care providers, have participated in developing the online digital assets as well as helping navigate supply chain issues to bring in critically needed products, like personal protective equipment and testing supplies, to aid in the statewide effort to battle COVID-19.

Contributing to that effort have been COVID-19 test kits manufactured in Utah by Co-Diagnostics.

The company announced Monday it had earned emergency authorization approval for its test by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after previously being given a limited ability to distribute its test under an FDA rule change in mid-March.

Co-Diagnostics CEO Dwight Egan said the sign-off will help the company play an even bigger role in “flattening the curve” of the pandemic.

“We believe that this authorization confirms the quality and performance of our COVID-19 test, and that it is a significant step in opening more doors and helping this test to reach an even wider audience,” Egan said in a statement. “Many experts agree that accessibility of widespread testing is an important element to ‘flattening the curve’ as U.S. cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, and that increased testing throughput is vital to achieve this objective.

“We look forward to continuing our goal of increasing the availability of advanced, high-throughput, and cost-effective COVID-19 testing solutions both close to home and across the globe.”

Those close-to-home testing solutions include use of the test at the current and future TestUtah.com testing sites.

Co-Diagnostics founder and chief science officer Dr. Brent Satterfield told the Deseret News the company is continuing to ramp up its test production capacity and has the goal of being able to manufacture 1 million to 1.5 million tests per week at its Salt Lake City manufacturing lab.

Satterfield said there continues to be unprecedented demand for COVID-19 tests, which continues to outstrip supply. He believes the newly acquired FDA approval will only ramp up interest in the Co-Diagnostics product.

“We’re getting over 200 emails a day, and that’s before the FDA approval,” Satterfield said. “There is a huge demand ... we are, along with every company out there, working to scale up to meet the needs.”

Satterfield said he believes other issues that have impacted testing, like a shortage of the necessary reagent chemicals used in an RNA extraction process that is required before his COVID-19 tests can be utilized, appear to be getting better, but other obstacles are cropping up.

“Right now, there is a severe shortage of the swabs used to collect samples from patients,” Satterfield said.

He said his company was proud to partner in the TestUtah.com effort, which is unlike anything previously experienced in the field of testing for highly communicable diseases.

“In all the time that I’ve been in the diagnostics community I’ve never seen anything like this,” Satterfield said. “The number of different partners that have come together for this one purpose is amazing.

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“And the commitment to getting the job done, and ending the spread of COVID-19, equally amazing.”

Betts said the near-term goal of TestUtah.com is getting everyone in the state to do the online assessment and deploying enough testing sites throughout the state to test 3,000 residents per day, which are being offered for no charge to either individuals or their insurers. It’s an achievement, he said, that is not only very doable but one he believes can be achieved in the not-too-distant future.

Betts also noted that there are, and will be, more obstacles to overcome on the way to testing every Utahn who needs it and continuing the fight against COVID-19. But, he noted that like any other business effort, Silicon Slopes and its partners will take on the issues as they come.

“When it comes down to it, this really is like launching a startup,” Betts said. “You iterate, you run into barriers, you knock them down and keep moving forward.”

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