A clutch of diagnostic companies have advanced their COVID-19 test offerings for K-12 as the strategy for safely reopening schools for in-person learning takes shape.
In Ohio, Color Health and Thermo Fisher Scientific are providing testing to students, teachers and staff as part of a pilot project. Separately, Quest Diagnostics has teamed up with Ginkgo Bioworks to provide tests to K-12 schools across the U.S.
- News of the initiatives comes weeks after all four companies contributed to a report by the Rockefeller Foundation that set out how to put the Biden administration’s $10 billion plan for school reopenings into effect.
The Rockefeller report and earlier pilot study provided a roadmap for reopening schools and evidence that testing drives down infections. Armed with those resources and government funding, more states are exploring how to enable the return of in-person education, creating opportunities for the diagnostic industry.
More than 50 million students are enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade, suggesting the potential for asymptomatic screening to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a week. And follow-up testing will provide further revenues.
Color and Thermo Fisher have seized on one of the opportunities. The companies, which jointly developed the ReadyCheckGo testing program, are administering a K-12 screening pilot in Ohio. Testing has begun at one school in Cincinnati and two schools in Columbus.
Ohio is the first state to participate in ReadyCheckGo. Thermo Fisher will leverage infrastructure the company put in place to support COVID-19 testing in Ohio early in the pandemic and send kits to schools with prepaid return shipping materials. Color is providing software designed to make registration, consent, sample management and reporting simpler for schools.
Quest has also enlisted external support for its K-12 testing program. Ginkgo, a cell engineering company that is in the process of going public in a $2.5 billion deal, is contributing its pooled testing program to the collaboration. The program, which is already serving around 1,000 schools, covers activities such as digital sign-up, data management and the integration of follow-up testing.
Partnering with Quest will expand Ginkgo's capacity, positioning it to provide pooled testing to schools across the U.S. Pooled testing, which is proposed in the Rockefeller report, sees multiple swabs put into a single tube. If the tube comes back positive, follow-up testing shows who has the virus. Quest said the approach can increase testing capacity while lowering the costs for schools.
A Rockefeller-commissioned study piloted Abbott Laboratories antigen tests at K-12 schools in six U.S. cities, which reported COVID-19 infections were cut by up to 50% but also identified barriers to their effective use. The pilot project recommended twice-weekly testing; however, school administrators felt they lacked the resources and staffing to keep up with such a test regime.
The decisions by Quest and Thermo, two big diagnostic companies, to partner for their K-12 testing programs points to the breadth of capabilities needed to provide the full range of support schools may need to set up and run programs without significantly burdening their staff. In Color and Ginkgo, Thermo Fisher and Quest have identified partners that can fill the gaps in their offerings.