Maine’s COVID-19 testing capacity to be more than tripled in ‘game changer’

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 1:45pm

    AUGUSTA — Governor Janet Mills announced May 7 her Administration has secured a major expansion of COVID-19 testing for the State of Maine.

    The Administration has partnered with Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. to purchase enough of the company’s recently authorized COVID-19 testing kits to more than triple the State’s testing capacity, according to a news release.

    The breakthrough will soon allow anyone in Maine suspected of having COVID-19 to receive a test, per the release. 

    IDEXX, a worldwide leader in animal diagnostics, also has deep expertise in human diagnostics through its human health business, OPTI Medical Systems, the release noted.

    Earlier Thursday, IDEXX announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted OPTI Medical Systems an Emergency Use Authorization for IDEXX’s OPTI SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR laboratory test kit for the detection of the 2019 novel coronavirus, the release noted.

    The Mills Administration is purchasing enough of these test kits to run at least 5,000 tests per week for the foreseeable future.

    “This changes everything,” Governor Mills said. “Acquiring this testing capacity is a major breakthrough for all the people of Maine. We have worked closely with IDEXX over the last month to position the state to benefit from this new and exciting product. Now we are poised to more than triple the State’s testing capacity, remove testing barriers for health care providers, and make sure that anyone who needs a test can get one. On behalf of this Administration and on behalf of all the people of Maine, I thank IDEXX for their ingenuity, generosity, and partnership. Acts like this demonstrate to us the heart of Maine’s extraordinary companies and the power of public-private collaboration.”

    “I am grateful to the frontline workers in Maine and around the world who have been working tirelessly to help treat and contain the spread of Covid-19,” said Jay Mazelsky, President and CEO of IDEXX. “Assisting governments with infectious disease management is core to what we do and all of us at IDEXX are proud to be able to leverage our capabilities in support of these efforts in our home state of Maine.”

    Taken in combination with Maine CDC’s current capacity of 2,000 tests per week, the partnership with IDEXX more than triples the State of Maine’s testing capacity.

    These tests are in addition to those conducted for Maine residents by nongovernmental labs in and outside of the state, according to the release.

    Additionally, IDEXX is loaning a testing instrument to the Maine CDC’s laboratory to help accommodate the higher testing volume and is generously donating enough test kits to conduct 3,500 tests.

    “This is a game changer,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine CDC. “It will allow us to move to a next level of testing that is crucial to monitoring the public health implications of a phased reopening of Maine businesses and gathering places.”

    This significant expansion of testing will ultimately allow Maine CDC to eliminate its testing prioritization system, which most states have had to implement as a result of the limited national supply of testing materials. After testing with the new instrument and materials is operational, which is expected as early as the end of next week, health care providers in Maine will be able to seek testing for anyone they suspect of having COVID-19. This includes people with symptoms, as well as those who have had significant, close contact with a person with COVID-19, such as a spouse. The breakthrough will also allow the State to more fully implement universal testing in congregate care settings, such as nursing facilities and shelters, and enable the State to work with providers to conduct voluntary sentinel testing, or “spot checks”, on patients in different parts of the health care system.

    The tests will be run at Maine CDC’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory (HETL) in Augusta. Maine CDC is hiring additional staff at HETL to support the expansion.

    The expansion of testing is also crucial to gradually restarting the economy and is one of the four guiding principles in the Governor’s vision for reopening Maine, the release stated.

    With this additional capacity, Maine CDC will be able to better gauge the prevalence of the virus throughout the State. These data will help inform the appropriateness of lifting restrictions and moving through reopening stages.

    Even with this announcement, the Administration will continue its efforts to secure more testing as part of its ongoing commitment to Maine’s public health, according to the release.

    For example, Maine CDC has also recently received testing supplies for its second King Fisher testing platform, which will further expand capacity.

    Additionally, the Mills Administration continues to press the Federal government to ensure that health care providers have a reliable and adequate supply of materials, such as swabs, to collect samples from patients for testing.