Test Well offers faster COVID results for Tahoe residents

Laney Griffo


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A new lab in South Lake Tahoe is streamlining the way COVID testing is performed in the community.

Test Well specializes in group COVID testing such as workplaces or family units.

“If you had asked me in March where we’d be in December with testing capacity, I would’ve been way off,” said Co-Founder Charles Boldwyn, adding that he thought testing would have been much easier, accurate and streamlined by now.

However, according to Test Well’s lab supervisor Maia Bickert, the rapid antigen tests have much lower sensitivities so they aren’t as accurate and the turnaround time for the available nasal swab testing has taken too long to effectively slow the spread of the virus.

For Boldwyn, finding a more effective testing method that would allow the community to reopen sooner was priority.

Test Well collects saliva samples from workplaces or family units and tests them in a batch, using the polymerase chain reaction method which is the same method as the nasal swabs and has a near 100% accuracy rate. Testing them as a batch allows officials to more quickly receive the results and relay that information.

“Batch testing allows us to test large numbers of specimens faster, preserve reagents and thus keep things at a reasonable cost,” Bickert said.

Because they can give results faster, they can inform people they are infected and to quarantine before their contagious peak.

While Test Well can’t yet give individual results, it is still helpful for a person to know if they, or someone in their workplace or unit, has the virus, meaning the whole group has been exposed. In that case, they know they should quarantine until they are able to receive conclusive individual results.

The thought is that workplaces can do batch testing every week or two to stay on top of the virus.

“The traditional model is removed from the patient so we’re bringing testing closer so people can make data driven decisions about their health,” Boldwyn said.

The crucial thing about Test Well is their turnaround time. If a unit orders a test, Test Well delivers the test kit to them and picks up the kit after the samples have been collected. If they get the samples in before 3 p.m., they are able to get results the same day.

“The other thing that is really crucial is that there’s a pretty small window where you are maybe a carrier, but you haven’t developed symptoms yet and this is while your viral load is growing so … by being able to deliver same day results, we can effectively stop it in its tracks,” Bickert said. “We can show the presence of the virus in certain people and have them quarantine before they realize that they may have been infected.”

Test Well is currently working on getting certified to give individual tests and results but for the time being, the CDC has said, “during the COVID-19 public health emergency and associated authorizations, facilities performing SARS-CoV-2 surveillance testing using a pooled sampling procedure to report non patient-specific SARS-CoV-2 cohort results will not require CLIA certification.”

Family unit testing is available in the city and is about $250 a batch which is two to five samples. Workplace testing is available for most of the basin and into the valley and, depending on the number of employees tested, is about $50-100 an employee.

For both Boldwyn and Bickert, the most important thing is getting the community healthy and back to business.

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