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Rapid molecular test for COVID-19 debuts at three LI urgent care centers

An Abbott Laboratories employee performs the new test

An Abbott Laboratories employee performs the new test at the corporation's headquarters in Lake Bluff, Ill. Credit: EPA-EFE / Shutterstock / Abbott Laboratories

Three urgent care centers on Long Island are among the first in the nation to deploy a new rapid molecular test for COVID-19 as a wave of new tools to diagnose the deadly virus begins reaching patients. 

Healthcare giant Abbott Laboratories delivered its nasal swab systems to  AFC Urgent Care centers in East Meadow, Farmingdale and West Islip and within hours of arriving Tuesday afternoon the devices were returning positive results indicating the virus, said Dr. Robert Levy, co-owner of the three clinics.

"This is a true game changer," he said.

Levy said the three clinics have been treating about 80 potential COVID-19 patients per day and routinely running out of testing supplies by late afternoon.

He said that the new point-of-care tests reduce the wait for results from days to under 15 minutes, and Illinois-based Abbott has provided assurances that sufficient test supplies will be available.

Levy said Abbott chose the Long Island urgent care centers because the clinics already are familiar with the toaster-size device that processes the new COVID-19 diagnostic cartridge.

On Friday, Abbott announced it had received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for the new test.

Last week, Henry Schein Inc., a Melville health care products distributor, said it had procured "hundreds of thousands" of 15-minute pinprick blood tests from South Korean manufacturer SD Biosensor that can detect antibodies in patients who have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The FDA, however, recommends that the blood test not be used as the sole basis of a diagnosis and follow-up molecular tests be considered for confirmation.

Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG also is ramping up production of COVID-19 tests, according to a research note from Evercore ISI analyst Vijay Kumar.

The new wave of tests promises to ease shortages on Long Island where scarcity of test equipment and delays in processing tests have left many patients in limbo.

Dr. Josh Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, however, said that the new diagnostic tests will only be as useful as the follow-up care.

"It's not the test result itself that reduces the disease, it's what happens afterward," he said.

He said those who test positive must be isolated, including those in the most dire need, such as people who are homeless, living in cramped quarters or in an assisted living facility.

"There are a lot of people who can't protect themselves," Sharfstein said. "If the illness spreads among those individuals, it undermines the overall response."

Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of health care epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine, said reliable COVID-19 tests with rapid turnaround times would be valuable in running trials of drugs to treat the virus.

"Some of the trials are time sensitive: The patient must be enrolled within a certain tight time frame to understand whether the trialed  drug works to prevent complications or death, or hastens recovery," she said.

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