Gates Foundation backs initiative to deliver in-home coronavirus tests in Seattle

Steven Loeb · March 9, 2020 · Short URL:

Last week, The Foundation pledged $5 million to help respond to the virus in the city

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It's difficult to turn on the news right now, or go on the internet, and not see something about the coronavirus. While it isn't yet a pandemic, it is a public health crisis, with reports of many people already infected in the US and many under quarantine. People are understandably nervous about contracting the virus, and then spreading it to other people.

One of the biggest concerns is around testing, with the Center for Disease Control having trouble not only getting kits out to patients, but also getting them to work. So far, the CDC has tested a little over 1,500 people for coronavirus so far, compared to over 100,000 in South Korea and over 20,000 people who have been tested in Italy. 

With the government, at least so far, falling short of what many would say are adequate numbers to fully address the impending problem, the private sector is coming to the rescue: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be offering Seattle residents a coronavirus kit that they can use to test themselves in their own home it first reported by the Seattle Times over the weekend. The news has since been confirmed to VatorNews. 

The test, which is expected to become available in the next few weeks, will allow people to swab their own noses, and then send those samples to be analyzed within two days. The results will be shared with local health officials, and those who are infected will be notified.  

For those who are infected, they will be able to provide more information, such their movements and contacts, via an online form. That is meant to make it easier for health officials to locate other people who they may have exposed the virus to, as well as to track the how the virus is spreading, and to identify possible hot spots.

The goal is to eventually be able to process thousands of these tests a day, but a few things have to happen before they will be ready to be shipped out, including upgraded software that can handle the number of expected requests, as well as a finalized questionnaire that will be sent out to those who think they have the virus.

This project is a result of a two year old collaboration called the Seattle Flu Study, in which the Brotman Baty Institute, UW Medicine, The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Seattle Children’s banded together to find out how to better detect, monitor, and control flu outbreaks.  

While the tests will initially be available in the Seattle area, they are expected to expand at least to the entire state of Washington, if not beyond. It was reported on Sunday night that there were three more deaths in Washington state over the weekend, bringing the total to 22. According to the Seattle Times report, there have been 15 deaths in Seattle & King County alone so far, out of 71 confirmed cases, though that number is estimated to be as high as 600.

When asked how the Foundation plans to help patients if they are found to be infected, a spokesperson for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation told VatorNews that it is working on that at the moment, but no details have been finalized. 

"Our team has and will continue to actively explore ways that we can contribute to local response through the application of the study. While we’re working quickly with our partners to determine what’s possible, details of this support have not yet been finalized. We will reach out as soon as we have more to share," the Foundation said. 

This news comes less than a week after the Gates Foundation announced that it would be committing $5 million for coronavirus response in Seattle.

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