KING COUNTY, Wash. — People in King County are getting the first rounds of at-home test kits for COVID-19. A new group called the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network is mailing out 300 kits every day – and it isn’t only testing people who are sick.
Todd Stevenson lives in Seattle and said he was experiencing what he would call a “minor cold.” He saw online that SCAN was conducting a study to figure out how widespread COVID-19 is in the community and was testing both healthy and sick people.
He was unsuccessful signing up Monday – SCAN was out – but managed to sign up Tuesday around 6:30 a.m. and said he was surprised to receive the test kit that same day, about 8 p.m.
“There was a package at my front door,” Stevenson said over the phone. Stevenson said he was experiencing symptoms that started out as a runny nose and sore throat and developed into a cough.
The group is made up of researchers from the Seattle Flu Study and Seattle King County Public Health. They are testing sick and healthy people, plus both kids and adults.
“By testing a broad sample of people in different communities, we’ll have a more detailed understanding of where the virus exists and who is being affected. This is important information that can help us learn about the true severity of infection, whether the community measures being taken to reduce its spread are working or need to be adjusted,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County on the Public Health Insider blog.
Public Health emphasizes that “SCAN is a surveillance program and not a clinical service” and that “it is not a substitute for checking in with your health care provider.”
Stevenson, who is 51 years old, shared photos of his test kit.
The kit includes instructions, a biohazard bag, a test vial with a solution to preserve the virus, one swab and a box that can hold up the tube.
“I put it in my nostril about an inch or so and spun it round a few times, then put the swab in the vial,” Stevenson said. He said the test was painless and only felt like it made him want to sneeze. However, others have described the test as quite uncomfortable.
People can sign up at www.SCANPublicHealth.org. You fill out a survey, including your ZIP code and any symptoms.
Researchers are mailing tests daily and can test up to 300 “swab and send” tests every day. They are looking for people from a cross-section of neighborhoods to best represent the population in King County.
Researchers will also test about 100 residual tests per day from previously submitted residual test samples, some of them from the Seattle Flu Study.
SCAN is funded by Gates Ventures (the private office of Bill Gates) and also gets technical help from the Gates Foundation, the CDC and Amazon Care.
As for whether the tests could be put to better use, Public Health said on its website:
“SCAN is an important tool in our effort to better understand and predict where the virus is in our community and how it’s being transmitted, as well as what might happen next. By launching SCAN, we will be able to make better decisions about how community measures such as social distancing and school closures are working to fight the outbreak. This type of surveillance is especially critical in situations where it is not possible to test every individual.
“It’s also important to know that the self-swab collection method used by SCAN has just been validated and approved for emergency, COVID-19 testing in Washington state. SCAN’s use of at-home, self-collection means the program does not reduce the testing capacity of our hospitals and clinics.”