UChicago Medicine and UIC researchers to study expanded access to rapid COVID-19 testing

Researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are launching an investigational study to determine the effects of increased education and access to rapid, FDA-approved COVID-19 testing on community perceptions, access, and use of COVID-19 testing resources.

The study will be funded by $2M in support from the National Institutes for Health RADx-UP program. A part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program supports research that aims to better understand COVID-19 testing patterns among underserved and vulnerable populations; strengthen the data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression and outcomes; and develop strategies to reduce the disparities in COVID-19 testing.

The research will be led by Ayman Al-Hendy, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UChicago Medicine, and Renee Taylor, PhD, professor of occupational therapy and Nahed Ismail MD, PhD, D(ABMM), D(ABMLI), professor of pathology and medical director of clinical microbiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The investigators plan to leverage existing university-community partnerships and expertise in clinical microbiology, community engagement, and epidemiological infrastructures to expand access to rapid COVID-19 testing.

“There are testing deserts in Chicago, where many people don’t have easy or affordable access to testing,” said Taylor. “We can reach individuals who maybe don’t have health insurance or are concerned about having a COVID-19 test on their medical record and provide them with an easy and private opportunity to get tested.”

The project includes collaboration with community members to co-create advertisements to recruit other participants into the trial as well as a mobile health web app, called the mHealth Literacy and Outreach Suite, that will allow individuals to not only privately order testing, but also learn how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and care for themselves if they fall ill.

Investigators are also sending out kits so participants can collect their own samples and send them to be tested at UIC. Sample collection can be performed rapidly at home with a nasal swab, without the discomfort of the typical nasopharyngeal swab, before sending the sample to the central lab for testing.

The team hopes that the privacy offered by these options, as well as the community advocacy, will help improve the public perception of receiving a COVID-19 test.

“Many people don’t trust the test, are concerned about the expense, or are worried that they’ll be forced out of work or forced to isolate if they have a positive test, which is creating a lot of stigma,” said Ismail. “We need to expand our testing in a community setting where people have some privacy, and the mHealth Suite provides that, as well as overcoming issues of cost.”

Al-Hendy credits the skills of the interdisciplinary team and their pooled community networks for making this collaborative effort possible. “The collaboration between UIC and UChicago Medicine will allow this project to reach many underserved populations,” he said. “Our two institutions already both have robust relationships within our local communities, which will help expand the

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A Biden win could lead to a mask mandate, more testing: Expert

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told Yahoo Finance Monday a Joe Biden presidency could bring mask mandates and greater investment in treatments and testing to the fore.

If Biden were to take office in January, he said, there would be a far more focused strategy at the federal level.

“I think starting in January, you’re going to see a much bigger push towards testing, towards a national mask mandate,” Jha said, adding that’s what the Biden team has indicated it will do.

In addition, he predicts there’d be more investment in vaccines and treatments than has been made to-date.

“What’s been interesting about the Trump response is for a few months at least … it was a lot of evidence-based approaches. In the last couple of months under Dr. Atlas, it’s very much been a kind of ‘let it go and let people get infected and hope we get to immunity,’ ” Jha said.

The earliest months of the coronavirus outbreak were marked by the formation of the White House coronavirus task force, which included the nation’s top health officials. It’s how Centers for Disease Control director Dr. Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Sec. Alex Azar, Ambassador Deborah Birx and NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci became household names.

When Operation Warp Speed was launched to coordinate the investment in vaccine efforts, including manufacturing and distribution, it marked a robust public-private partnership that could streamline logistics once a vaccine is authorized or approved.

But that focus on science was derailed when Trump perceived he was losing control of the messaging to the task force’s doctors and brought on Dr. Scott Atlas as a task force advisor, said Jha.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden holds up his face mask as he speaks to members of the media outside a voter service center, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden holds up his face mask as he speaks to members of the media outside a voter service center, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Despite the billions invested in a handful of companies through Operation Warp Speed, investment in treatments and testing has lagged. That was revealed recently from data published by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a part of Health and Human Services.

With the lag in treatments, hospitals are amid the latest surge with no new treatments available and are still struggling with protective gear and testing availability. But even if the country has to wait until January for the change — and watch the death toll rise in the interim — Jha believes it won’t be too late to increase investments if Biden wins.

“What would have been reasonable would have been that back in April and May as these new therapeutics … were being tested, the federal government should have stepped in,” and supported production of tens of millions of doses, Jha said. Instead, the U.S. only has tens of thousands of doses to utilize.

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Montgomery County testing mosquitoes for West Nile virus after death

Following the confirmation of a West Nile virus related death and Montgomery County’s second possible case, the Precinct 3 Mosquito Abatement Team is on high alert as they continue to test mosquito samples.

On Friday, the Montgomery County Public Health District announced the death of a man in his 70s who lived in the 77381 ZIP code. While the man did have other medical conditions but the death was classified as a probable West Nile virus case. A woman in her 60s who lives in the 77382 ZIP code has been confirmed as the second case.

At this time in 2019, the county had no cases of West Nile virus, health officials said.


Cody Grimes, manager of projects and logistics for the Precinct 3 office, said the announcement of the death and second case did not prompt spraying in those ZIP codes. Grimes explained that due to the time to get the confirmation on the cases, crews had already responded to those ZIP codes when the mosquito sample returned positive.

He noted currently there are no West Nile positive samples in South County.

“We do spray when we get positive mosquito samples,” Grimes said, adding mosquito season is winding down. “There hasn’t been anything abnormal this year.”

West Nile virus can cause serious disease and is commonly spread by infected mosquitoes, according to MCPHD. People typically develop symptoms between three and 14 days after they are bitten. According to the CDC, approximately 80 percent of people who are infected will not show any symptoms at all.

Milder symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and, sometimes, swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. These symptoms can last up to several weeks. Serious symptoms that account for less than 1 percent of those infected can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis. These symptoms can last for several weeks and neurological effects may be permanent.

Anyone who develops symptoms of severe West Nile virus illness, such as unusually severe headaches or confusion, should seek medical attention immediately. However, the majority of milder illnesses improve on their own.

According to the CDC, the most effective way to avoid West Nile virus is to prevent mosquito bites. Avoid bites by using insect repellants, wearing protective clothing when outdoors and emptying standing water outside of your home.

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Bay Area gets aggressive, state doubles testing

With U.S. infection rates spiking and a far more modest uptick in California, the Bay Area on Friday enacted additional, hard-charging measures to corral COVID-19: San Francisco hit the brakes on reopening, and Santa Clara County sought a legal order against a church that has been flouting restrictions on indoor gatherings.

Meanwhile, in Southern California, state officials unveiled a swiftly built lab that officials say will double the state’s already substantial coronavirus-testing capacity by spring.

Taken together, the day’s actions underscored California’s resolve to manage the pandemic aggressively, even as other states loosen restrictions and struggle with viral transmission.

San Francisco, which has the lowest positivity rate of any major metropolitan area in the country, announced its rollback of some recent reopening moves amid worrisome indicators, including increases in hospitalizations and infections. Just two weeks ago, the city had moved into the yellow tier on the state’s reopening matrix, the least restrictive level.

Friday’s pivot means that restaurants previously approved to expand to 50% indoor capacity will have to stick to the current 25% occupancy, as will indoor places of worship, museums, zoos, aquariums and movie theaters. Plans to allow indoor pools and bowling alleys have been removed from the city’s reopening trajectory for now.

“The last thing we want to do is go backward,” Mayor London Breed said in a news conference Friday. “The last thing we want to do is tell a business or a school that they can open, then tell them they have to close. So we’re proceeding with caution.”

In the South Bay, Santa Clara County officials announced that they had filed suit in Superior Court to stop Calvary Chapel San Jose from holding indoor services. The church had signaled early on during the pandemic that it was not going to abide county restrictions, instead taking guidance from President Donald Trump’s declarations that in-church worship was an essential function.

In a similar clash with North Valley Baptist in Santa Clara, piles of fines and the threat of a court injunction prompted the church to back down and switch to outdoor services. For Calvary Chapel, fines that reached $350,000 did not deter the services, prompting county officials to ask a judge to make them change their ways.

The church has deemed the move “a request to crush the Church’s constitutional rights” while acknowledging many of the allegations regarding its flouting of the rules. In a legal filing, the defendants argued that their activities are not a genuine threat because they have not been linked to an outbreak. They also noted that crowded police-brutality protests over the summer got no such enforcement scrutiny.

But Dr. Arthur Reingold, division head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, wrote in a declaration supporting the county’s court filing that a church outbreak could just be a matter of time without compliance to health protocols.

Reingold wrote that the risks of COVID-19 transmission from large indoor gatherings are already high and that “adding activities like singing,

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As Covid cases climb, testing options grow. Here’s a look at what’s new.

If you are exposed to someone with Covid-19 and want to know if you caught it, your choices are much better than just a few months ago. You can go to urgent cares, retail pharmacies, doctors’ offices and private laboratories for a variety of tests and rapid results – a critical expansion of choices at a time when new cases are spiking in Florida and the U.S.

The state has ditched the slow-processing labs, secured quicker tests and cut wait times from the early months of the pandemic. Floridians will now find a range of choices on places to go, types of tests, and turnaround speed.

Earlier this week, Alex Morton found out at 5 p.m. his roommate had tested positive for the virus, and wanted to know if he could go to work the next day. Morton rushed to a nearby Fort Lauderdale urgent clinic open until 9 p.m., took a coronavirus test and learned he was negative the next morning. “It was a relief,” he said.

No appointment required

Many urgent care centers in South Florida offer evening hours for testing. Holy Cross Hospital operates urgent care centers in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs and says patients can get results with 8 to 10 hours.

If you’d rather test yourself at home, Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp, two of the nation’s biggest laboratories, will deliver collection kits to take a sample and send it back for processing. Quest charges $119 for the test.

Costco offers its members do-it-yourself Covid-19 tests that involve spitting into a small tube and sending it to a lab. For $129.99, you’ll get results 24-72 hours after the lab gets the test. For $10 more, you can get results 24-48 hours after the test arrives at the lab.

If you prefer drive-thru testing, Walmart, Walgreens and CVS, have it available at certain South Florida locations.

CVS Minute Clinics have begun to offer rapid tests with 30-minute results, but so far the nine Florida locations are in the central area of the state and the pharmacy hasn’t announced when they will be available in South Florida.

The state continues to run numerous walk-up and drive-thru testing sites in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade. Many are open seven days a week, but all close by 6 p.m. and some much earlier. Appointments are not required but some locations make them available.

Currently, the Hard Rock Stadium in North Miami-Dade County is the busiest, but not nearly as bad as the early days. “Anyone who wants a test can get one. We are not seeing the challenges of when we first started,” said Mike Jachle, chair of the Florida Association of Public Information Officers, which supports the state at the test sites.

Some cities like Miramar also have opened their own free test sites. Miramar’s self-administered saliva test given at Miramar Regional Park has a 48 hour turnaround time.

Anyone can get tested, for free

In most cases, you do not have to pay for a

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SF stops Google-affiliated testing after results take 10 days

San Francisco has stopped partnering with Google-affiliated Verily at its community COVID-19 test sites after the the state of California announced $55 million in contracts with the firm in March.

San Francisco’s first Verily testing site was set up in the Tenderloin in partnership with the San Francisco Department of Public Health and Glide Memorial Church. The pop-up was initially located next to Glide and later St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“We stopped utilizing the Verily asset in August when the turnaround time for testing results were 10-plus days,” the city said in a statement. “Upon resolution of the results reporting, we reached out to the state to deploy the asset to a new site but California Department of Public Health decided that the testing asset was needed elsewhere, a county that had higher infection rates. It was deemed at that point that San Francisco already had high testing rate and low infection rate and the asset was needed elsewhere.”

Pop-up testing led by the Department of Public Health and the genetic-testing company Color now operates in the Tenderloin twice a week in coordination with Glide.


Verily, the life sciences arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is one of many vendors the state has contracted with to provide testing. The state’s contract with the company based in South San Francisco was much hailed by state officials, as it offered a platform that screens potential patients and connects them with testing. The intention was to use the platform to bring testing to those neighborhoods most impacted by the virus or those with hard-to-reach populations.

In an April 29 press briefing, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the company was “focusing on expanding their testing with a socioeconomic lens to diverse communities, not just in rural California but inner city California.”

Trump even touted Verily, announcing on March 13 that Google was building a site to help Americans locate COVID-19 testing, misleading people to believe the Northern California effort was geared to the entire country.

While Verily was meant to help reach underserved communities in San Francisco, Kenneth Kim, clinical director of Glide, told Kaiser Health News that the platform presented many hurdles for the homeless population it was meant to serve. Verily requires users to have a Google account and Kim said many homeless residents getting tested had the accounts but they couldn’t remember passwords.

Alameda County also partnered with Verily to open two testing sites. The first one closed by May, and the second, at an Oakland Church, closed in August, according to Kaiser Health News. A June letter to California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and other members of the county’s COVID-19 Racial Disparities Task Force noted many of the problems with the platform, including the inability for users to make an appointment over the phone and the requirement to have a Google account.

Kathleen Parkes told Kaiser Health News Gmail accounts are required to register with Verily’s platform because Google’s authentication procedures safeguard

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Coronavirus Testing Expands Across WI

ACROSS WISCONSIN— The expansion of coronavirus testing across Wisconsin was announced by Gov. Tony Evers along with Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm Thursday.

The expansion includes 71 new free community testing sites that will now be available in 56 counties and 7 tribal nations. These sites have the capacity to test approximately 48,000 people each week. Increasing access to testing for all individuals continues to be a major pillar of Wisconsin’s statewide response plan, and these efforts will help meet this goal.

“Testing is a critically important part of our state’s response to this pandemic, and we want to make it easier for those who need a test to get a test,” said Governor Evers. “Distance is one barrier that we can do something about, and one of the ways to address this issue is to offer testing in more places.”

Key information about the community testing sites:

  • 71 new community testing sites are opening in October and will be available through December 10.

  • 56 counties will host consistent COVID-19 testing sites.

  • 7 tribal nations will be either hosting or co-hosting community testing sites.

  • 35 testing sites will be available 1-3 days a week in 29 counties or tribal nations.

  • 31 testing sites will be available every other week in 27 counties or tribal nations.

  • 5 new sites will be available once a month in 3 counties.

The new sites are intended to ensure consistent access to testing in all regions of the state. Each of the sites uses COVID Connect, the state’s online testing registration and result system, and each has the capacity to collect 300-400 tests a day.

“Testing plays a critical role in protecting our friends and family from further spread of the virus and helps us to understand disease activity around the state,” said Secretary-designee Palm. “If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, we encourage you to visit one of these testing sites, isolate away from others, and let your close contacts know they may have been exposed. Your efforts to keep those around you safe will help stop the spread.”

Testing provides foundational information but is not enough to stop the spread. Actions taken after obtaining a test are the key to preventing further infections. These actions include quarantining while waiting for results, self-isolating and notifying contacts in the case of a positive result, and monitoring symptoms in the case of a negative result.

Each site represents a partnership between the State of Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center, the Wisconsin National Guard, local and tribal public health, and county and tribal emergency management. The Healthcare Emergency Readiness Coalition coordinators also played a key role in establishing sites across the state.

The community testing sites will be staffed by the Wisconsin National Guard citizen soldiers with one local site manager per site. In addition to the community testing sites, Wisconsin National Guard personnel may also provide testing support for

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Rockville Lab Can Resume COVID-19 Testing Following Investigation

ROCKVILLE, MD — The Rockville lab ordered by the state to stop processing COVID-19 tests following an investigation into its protocols has been cleared to resume testing, the company announced Wednesday.

“I am pleased that AdvaGenix is approved to resume COVID-19 testing by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Maryland Department of Health,” said AdvaGenix owner Dr. William Kearns. “AdvaGenix has confirmed the integrity of the specimens and accuracy of the tests we’ve conducted.”

AdvaGenix, once the largest supplier of COVID-19 tests for Montgomery County, had to halt testing after state and federal officials visited the lab in August and found deficient practices.

Health officials did not go into specifics but said investigators found “improper laboratory and COVID-19 testing procedures that endanger patient health, safety, and welfare.”

Montgomery County cut ties with the lab shortly thereafter.

Kearns disputed the investigation, saying that the tests were safe and accurate — and that the issues investigators found had to do with a “pre-analytical temperature stability study.”

Before being ordered to stop, AdvaGenix had processed more than 19,000 tests — or roughly 8 percent of the total testing provided to county residents.

After cutting ties with AdvaGenix, the county inked a deal with CIAN Diagnostic Laboratories in Frederick.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s top health official, said the county recently had a conversation with AdvaGenix about its services.

“At this time, based upon our current needs, we have the (testing) capacity but, consistent with what we’ve always said, we continue to explore new partnerships, particularly if there are new opportunities for new technology to integrate into the systems that we have,” he said. “So that’s where we currently stand with AdvaGenix, as well as with other companies that could potentially be able to meet those needs as they arise in the future.”

The county is consistently meeting its goal to test 5 percent of its population per month.

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This article originally appeared on the Rockville Patch

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Scientists Can Detect COVID Outbreaks in Communities by Testing Sewage Samples

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Scientists have found another way to identify clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks in communities across the country.

According to a new report from CNN, researchers now test sewage for the coronavirus, checking the samples for signs of COVID-19 infections that often show up in human waste before people present symptoms. “It’s a leading indicator,” researcher Rosa Inchausti told the outlet. “The proof is in the poop.”

Mariana Matus, the CEO of Biobot Analytics, told CNN that testing sewage can often indicate a COVID outbreak before hospitals begin to crowd. Plus, the method can identify more infections since it doesn’t rely on individuals to submit to a COVID test — although the sewage method doesn’t flag sick people individually.

“People start shedding virus pretty quickly after they are infected and before they start showing symptoms,” said Matus, who added: “We are seeing an upturn in the wastewater data, which I think broadly matches what we are seeing across the country. It’s been interesting seeing this almost second wave.”

New U.S. infections have increased 41 percent in the last two weeks and hospitals in several states — primarily in the Midwest — are running out of ICU beds.

RELATED: More Than 40 States Have Spiking COVID Cases and Midwestern Hospitals Are ‘Struggling’ to Keep Up

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On Wednesday, the U.S. recorded the second-highest number of new infections in one day with 81,457, just below the all-time record of 85,085, set last Friday.

As of Thursday morning, more than 8.9 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 227,697 have died from the virus, according to The New York Times.

The White House’s head of coronavirus testing said that the record-breaking numbers of new infections in the U.S. are “real,” and not because of an increase in testing. Testing czar Admiral Brett Giroir confirmed that U.S. COVID-19 cases are rising.

RELATED: More Than 62,000 Used Masks and Gloves Found in Oceans and on Beach Shorelines: ‘A Significant Threat’

“Testing may be identifying some more cases, I think that’s clearly true, but what we’re seeing is a real increase in the numbers,” he told the Washington Post.

“Compared to the post-Memorial Day surge, even though testing is up, this is a real increase in cases,” he said. “We know that not only because the case numbers are up and we can calculate that, but we know that hospitalizations are going up.”

Giroir urged Americans to keep up hygiene practices, wear masks and social distance as the crisis could get worse. “We really have to reengage the public health measures that we know work or those hospitalizations can go up substantially,” he said.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information

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Atlas push to ‘slow the testing down’ tracks with dramatic decline in one key state

Atlas, a neuroradiologist, not an infectious disease expert, strongly supported a decision in August to revise federal guidelines to de-emphasize the need to test people without symptoms, according to two sources familiar with the process. He shared his view with state officials, including Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and several others in Florida, according to transcripts of public events and accounts from private meetings in that state.

“The purpose of testing is to stop people from dying,” Atlas said during one stop, captured on video. “When you start introducing closure of schools because people have positive, asymptomatic tests, that’s sort of not the purpose of testing.”   

“I think, Dr. Atlas, we’re in agreement on focusing strategies in school on people who are symptomatic,” DeSantis said in another joint news conference that day. 

Their push to de-emphasize tests coincided with a dramatic drop in testing across Florida, even as the country was careening toward a fall coronavirus surge. A CNN analysis of the Florida state official numbers, aggregated by the Covid Tracking Project, shows that testing dropped off at the end of July and early August, with a peak seven-day average over 90,000 tests per day on July 18. Six weeks later, in early September, the seven-day average dropped by nearly half, with fewer than 48,000 tests per day, and hovered between there and 60,000 during the fall.

If Atlas and DeSantis’ advocacy in Florida is, in fact, responsible for the state’s testing decrease, that would be in keeping with the wishes of Trump, who for months has falsely suggested that the US has so many coronavirus cases only because it conducts so many tests. In June, Trump even said publicly that he wanted to “slow the testing down, please.”   

Though both Atlas and DeSantis declined to discuss their views with CNN for this story, they have articulated them in public. Some state and local officials believe the pair was influential in taking Trump’s anti-testing pronouncements and helping to turn them into public policy. And the drop-off in testing is of deep concern to some. It took place as positivity rates remained high, in the range that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers indicative of high community spread.

Asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers are still contagious, experts say. A lack of widespread testing makes it harder to map the disease as it spreads and to warn those at risk of illness.    

“There’s no question more people are going to die,” says Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a critic of DeSantis’ approach to testing and other matters of the governor’s pandemic management. “We are flying blind without tests.”    

At the moment, the nation is experiencing another surge of illness. Daily case numbers are reaching levels not seen since late July, and Florida is starting to see its numbers go up as well. Experts say that widespread testing, including of asymptomatic carriers, is critical to limiting the spread of the virus.    

A White House spokesman claimed Atlas had never advocated reducing testing, despite the

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