FRANKFORT, Ky. — The state of Kentucky has reached an agreement with Covington-based Gravity Diagnostics to produce and distribute thousands of rapid COVID-19 tests to underserved areas, Gov. Andy Beshear announced in a Sunday evening news conference.
The partnership could double the number of tests Kentucky is able to perform each week.
“This is a significant step for us,” Beshear said. “It means that, if we get the swabs we need, we can make sure there isn’t any area of the state that doesn’t have — at least compared to the rest of the country — a pretty significant ability to test.”
Beshear said he expects Gravity Diagnostics, which performs drug and infectious disease testing, to eventually provide up to 2,000 COVID-19 tests per day.
“We’ll start a little slowly in the beginning, wanting to ramp up, wanting to make sure we’re doing them right, wanting to make sure that the process is there,” he said.
His administration plans to distribute them outside the "Golden Triangle” of Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky, in areas that do not already have access to the rapid-turnaround testing already provided by University at Louisville, University of Kentucky and other major school systems.
The first tests will ship out Monday; testing will begin Tuesday and Wednesday. Patients, some of whom might otherwise wait 7-10 days for results from large private labs, will know their results within 24 hours.
Beshear said the tests will be reserved for “Tier 1” patients as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s four-tier priority ranking. Tier 1 consists of high-risk patients displaying COVID-19 symptoms as well as health care workers and first responders.
“The ability (to get results) here in 24 hours means, if you’ve got a group of health care workers that are self-quarantined and we really need them in the hospital, we can get that back and they can get back to work,” he said.
He added testing capacity could be lower than 2,000 per day, despite the tests themselves being available, if tools such as nasopharyngeal swabs remain hard to find. Like ventilators, medical-grade masks and gloves, swabs are in such high demand that the planet’s only two manufacturers are struggling to produce enough — and, once they exist, states are forced to bid against each other to purchase them.
“It's overwhelming, to be frank,” said Timothy Templet, a vice president at Maine-based swab manufacturer Puritan Medical Products, in an April 1 NPR interview. “We are running now six days a week, two shifts, 10 hours a day.”
Still, Beshear said, an optimistic estimate is that Kentucky will be able to run 14,000 additional tests per week and provide health care officials with much faster results.
At the time Beshear spoke Sunday evening, 955 Kentuckians had been positively diagnosed with COVID-19. Forty-five had died. Beshear said he had received word of only 38 new cases between Saturday and Sunday, but the real total could be higher — not every lab reported in on Palm Sunday.
The state of Kentucky remains under a "healthy at home" order from Beshear's office, which closes all businesses deemed non-essential, encourages Kentuckians to avoid gathering in large groups and urges them to stay home unless performing essential work-related or life-sustaining tasks. A blanket ban on travel to other states — exempting travel related to work or essential tasks — continues.