now testing

Texas startup provides COVID-19 home-testing kits at no cost to medical professionals

Everlywell says it will prioritize giving its at-home COVID-19 tests to healthcare professionals. Photo by Siri Stafford/Getty Images

The on-again, off-again launch of a coronavirus test from Austin startup Everlywell is on again — sort of.

On March 23, Everlywell was supposed to start shipping 30,000 test kits to U.S. consumers. But before a single test was sent, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blocked the distribution of at-home, self-administered tests from Everlywell and other companies.

Now, the Austin-based company is making the tests available primarily to hospitals and other healthcare providers in the U.S. to meet a "desperate need" for front-line medical professionals to be tested.

"In this evolving health crisis, our highest priority is to ensure that the people at highest risk get the accurate testing and care they need," Michelle Davey, CEO of Wheel Health, says in a March 23 release.

Everlywell says that effective March 23, its test is available only to hospitals and healthcare providers that offer it at no cost to their front-line workers, along with high-risk patients who exhibit coronavirus symptoms.

The company, which produces a variety of at-home lab tests, says its shift from testing of consumers to testing of healthcare workers and high-risk patients is "critically important" to help prevent the spread of what's known as the novel coronavirus. The virus causes the highly contagious and potentially deadly COVID-19 respiratory illness.

It's been a confusing few days since Everlywell announced it was making at-home tests for consumers. On March 20, the FDA said it hadn't authorized at-home, self-administered coronavirus tests from Everlywell or any other company. Three days later, on March 23, Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus coordinator for the White House, announced the federal government was clearing the way for self-swabbing coronavirus tests such as those made by Everlywell.

In a series of tweets March 23, Everlywell said it's working with the FDA on "a path forward" for at-home coronavirus tests of consumers.

"The FDA sees the public health value in expanding the availability of COVID-19 testing through safe and accurate tests that may include home collection," the federal agency says, "and we are actively working with test developers in this space."

Everlywell unveiled a $1 million program design to spur labs to speed up development of an at-home coronavirus diagnostic test. Many labs answered the call, allowing Everlywell to set up a coronavirus testing and diagnosis system in a matter of days. For consumers, each test will cost $135. Some providers of health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts will cover these tests.

Eventually, Everlywell wants to ship 250,000 tests per week.

At the same time, another Austin startup, Wheel Health, and Houston-based Microdrop have unveiled a partnership that will provide at-home coronavirus testing administered by licensed healthcare professionals, rather than consumers themselves, and supported by telemedicine technology. The federally approved product is geared toward people at high risk of the coronavirus or people with limited access to testing. For now, it's available only in Texas.

The test from Wheel, a telehealth provider, and Microdrop, a producer of at-home health tests, also costs $135. At the outset, the companies will roll out 5,000 test kits in Texas. After that, they plan to sell 10,000 test kits per week. Nationwide, the companies hope to offer 100,000 test kits per week by the end of April.

"Providing accurate medical guidance to people who are concerned about, or may have been exposed to, COVID-19 will determine the way this pandemic plays out in our country — and collaboration is essential to mobilizing toward this common goal rapidly and efficiently," says Dr. Rafid Fadul, chief medical officer of Wheel.

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Building Houston

 
 

As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

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