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FDA approves new 5-minute coronavirus test

Published Mar 30th, 2020 2:45PM EDT
Coronavirus USA
Image: IAN LANGSDON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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  • The FDA approved a fast coronavirus test that can provide a positive result in 5 minutes and a negative one in 13 minutes.
  • The Abbott test can be performed using the company’s widely deployed ID NOW testing machines, which require little training to operate.
  • Abbott can ramp up mass-production to up to 50,000 tests per day.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The world is scrambling to mass-produce more tests able to detect the novel coronavirus more quickly than traditional tests. That’s because the SARS-CoV-2 virus is very contagious, having infected more than 740,000 people around the world in three months. Not only that, but the virus is inconsistent when it comes to symptoms. Some people won’t experience any symptoms for up to 14 days after being infected. What’s worse is that most of the COVID-19 symptoms mimic the flu. The loss of taste and smell is an unusual early COVID-19 sign that people should be on the lookout for, although not all patients might experience it. In most cases, you can’t detect the virus early by looking at symptoms alone. And without symptoms, you won’t qualify for any sort of testing in the US and other countries.

Tests are your best bet once you suspect you’ve been infected, and a quick positive diagnosis can dramatically improve your chances of recovery and dramatically decrease the chances that you’ll spread the potentially deadly disease. You’d be admitted to a hospital or quarantined during your recovery to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to others. That’s where the new 5-minute coronavirus tests can come in handy, especially for specific categories of patients.

Researchers have come up with coronavirus tests that deliver results as fast as 30 or 45 minutes. That’s a lot better than hours or days, but Abbott can deliver results even quicker than that. Its new COVID-19 test needs only five minutes for a positive result and 13 minutes for a negative result.

This is the sort of test that could be used for healthcare workers, first responders, and any other essential personnel suspected to have come in contact with a COVID-19 patient. The tests can also be used for screening travelers coming in from hot zones, or actually diagnosing patients in hot zones faster than before. Also, patients coming to the ER with other life-threatening conditions and patients who might require emergency surgeries could be tested for COVID-19 beforehand.

The other advantage Abbott tests have over competitors is that they work with ID NOW testing devices, which are about the size of a toaster. This sort of equipment can be deployed anywhere it’s needed, and can be operated without sophisticated training.

The ID NOW platform “holds the largest molecular point-of-care footprint in the U.S. and is already widely available in physicians’ offices, urgent care clinics, and hospital emergency departments across the country.”

Testing is crucial for flattening the curve, as South Korea and Singapore have proven so far. Germany also adopted a mass-testing policy, which allowed it to catch COVID-19 cases early and reduce the fatality rate of the disease, compared to other Central European countries. The more people are tested in a country, the clearer the big picture is. And once you know the true extent of a local COVID-19 epidemic, you can take better measures to contain outbreaks and reduce the spread of the disease.

Not all Americans will be able to take advantage of these fast tests, at least not initially. Abbott can deliver some 50,000 tests per day or around 1,500,000 per month. The FDA has issued 19 other emergency use authorizations for diagnostic tests, NBC explains. The agency is working with more than 220 test developers who are expected to submit emergency-use authorization requests son.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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