Nashville-based Aegis Sciences has been approved to test for COVID-19. And starting on Wednesday, the company says its labs in MetroCenter will be able to turn around 3,500 tests a day, with results available within 24 hours.
The privately held lab company will serve as a “regional reference laboratory” for the state of Tennessee. It’s charging the minimum rate set by Medicare, which is $51.31. Health plans are almost universally covering the test, and uninsured patients are being told they shouldn’t have to pay.
Despite the demand for testing, operations chief Matt Hardison says it took some time to lock down enough swabs and chemicals, which are in high demand.
“Once we were able to confirm a solid supply chain where we had guaranteed collection device availability and guaranteed testing re-agents, that’s when we were able to make the move,” he says.
To get technical, the test is performed by Real Time Reverse-Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (Real Time RT-PCR). It can detect as few as 20 copies of the virus in a milliliter sample, the company says.
Broadly, COVID-19 testing has been less than reliable, with as many as 30% of tests returning false negatives. But Hardison says sometimes the issue is how the sample was taken or stored, not the test itself.
Starting in May, Aegis also plans to offer antibody testing, which would indicate some level of immunity for people who’ve fought off the virus.
“Especially if or when there’s a resurgence in the fall, we think this is just another piece of the puzzle in terms of providing that good objective data to really help policy makers,” CEO Frank Basile says.
Private labs are now conducting most of the testing in the state after government labs did most of the initial work. As of Sunday, nearly 71,000 tests have been completed in Tennessee.
*This story was updated with quotes from company officials.