Marcia Heller: New reusable COVID-19 testing device could be a game-changer | Coronavirus crisis

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Lured by the prospect of helping fight COVID-19 — and the offer of a $50 Amazon card to sweeten the deal — I agreed to be part of a recent trial for a new device. reusable home test to detect virus.

I was contacted about the study via email by Aptitude Medical Systems, the Goleta company that administered the COVID-19 tests to students and faculty at Santa Barbara City College.

Aptitude got my name because as a CCSC adult student, I got tested regularly at sites set up at the Schott or Wake Extended Learning Centers before going to my Wednesday ceramics class. morning.

At the height of the pandemic, students were required to get tested within days of attending an in-person class, but now testing is more of a suggestion and a courtesy to your fellow students. Vaccinations and masks remained compulsory.

I continued to get the screenings – which are still available at both adult education centers, as well as CCSC’s main campus – because they are an easy way to get a free COVID-19 test. and handy if I’m concerned about possible exposure, or just to be on the safe side.

So when the email from Aptitude popped up in my inbox, I signed up for the trial without much hesitation. The brief instructions for participants stated:

1. It would be a two hour appointment (which it wasn’t – more like barely 90 minutes even with a few blunders on my part) so I might want to bring a book or phone to keep me busy during downtime between sample collections.

2. I must not eat, drink, smoke or use oral hygiene products 30 minutes before my exam.

3. I must not do any other home COVID-19 tests within eight hours of the appointment.

My session was set for 11:30 a.m. on a Monday and I arrived on time at the testing site, the Goleta Valley Community Center. I parked in a parking spot in the circular driveway outside the historic building on Hollister Avenue in Old Town.

Aesthetically, the drab community center, which was built in 1927 as Goleta Union School, has certainly seen better days. But, as a COVID-19 testing site for many months, it played an important role in helping save the lives of local residents.

I walked down the hall to Room 3, where I was escorted by a young lab tech wearing a sky blue paper surgical gown and a white mask that looked roughly like the KN95 that covered my nose and my mouth.

She handed me a piece of white tape with a number on it to stick on my shirt and motioned for me to sit across from her at a small desk.

The procedure involved four sample collections: two that I would take and test myself, presumably to see if the test kits are user-friendly enough for even a layman like me to understand, and two collected by a medical professional. for further scientific study.

After watching a short video tutorial and receiving a step-by-step instruction brochure, I started with the self-administered nasal swab and saliva kits.

The process is similar to the home antigen tests we’ve all been doing for months: take the sample, put it in a collector, shake it… you know the drill.

Except the new proficiency test includes a small, reusable black reader box into which you insert a sensor that holds your collectible sample and gives results in 30 minutes.

A solid green line means negative — COVID-19 not detected; solid red indicates positive for COVID-19; and solid purple means the test is invalid – back to the drawing board with a new test.

I guess I would give myself a B for my testing skills. During the nasal test, I forgot to remove the black plastic cover from the base of the collector, so that it does not adhere to the sensor. Duh! And on the saliva test, it took me several tries before the sensor was pushed far enough into the reader to avoid an error message.

The third time, or maybe it was the fourth, was the charm.

Both tests showed that COVID-19 was not detected. Phew!

The most taxing part of the whole experiment was producing enough saliva to fill the test tube that would be used as a comparison sample.

Hoping it might make me salivate, the friendly medical professional administering the test kept asking me to think of my favorite dish (an apple pancake, bubbling with hot cinnamon and sugar…yum!).

When that didn’t work, she pulled out a lemon-scented candle, which is apparently a spit stimulator. Who knew?

It also didn’t help that I dropped the test tube at one point and had to start over. In a nod to the professionalism of Aptitude’s lab technicians, no one flinched (at least not that I noticed) when an audible scream, and possibly a curse, escaped my lips. when the saliva receiver slipped from my hand and landed on the mat. Oops!

Eventually, I passed all the required tests and, as promised, I received a $50 Amazon gift voucher, which I quickly used to buy more KN95 masks.

I went home quite pleased with myself, especially after re-reading some of the information Aptitude had included in the explanatory material it gives to test takers:

“By participating in this study, you are not only helping to fight the ongoing pandemic, but you are also helping us to increase access and affordability of testing for all,” he says. “Additionally, this product will be expanded to include other targets such as influenza, streptococci, STDs, etc. in the future so that people have access to convenient and accurate healthcare in the privacy of their own home.

“This study is a major step towards achieving that goal and we greatly appreciate your assistance.”

— Marcia Heller is a Noozhawk editor. Contact her at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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