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Cue Health Launches New COVID-19 Testing Program for Schools

Med-tech company Cue Health hopes to expand the use of its COVID-19 test among schools looking for fast and accurate results through a new program announced Monday. The company says the test is simple to administer and read, without the need for a lab.

A contributed photo from Cue Health shows how the test can be administered and read via a cartridge reader connected to a mobile device.
Public school districts across the country are on the lookout for new methods to monitor the spread of COVID-19 as millions of K-12 students make the gradual return to in-person learning. And with some tests taking days to record and send results, officials need tests that promise both speed and accuracy.

To help fill this need, med-tech company Cue Health announced its Cue for Schools initiative Monday to help provide K-12 schools and universities with its proprietary COVID-19 at-home test, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use as the first over-the-counter molecular coronavirus test.

Clint Sever, co-founder and chief product officer at Cue Health, said the test kit includes nasal swabs, sample cartridges and the Cue Health Monitoring System cartridge reader, as well as a mobile smartphone app that analyzes samples. Test results can then be recorded and quickly reported to officials and school administrators.

“The cartridge reader consumes disposable test cartridges, which allow a user to just insert a cartridge, take a sample from the lower portion of their nose, insert the sample into the cartridge and the test starts automatically,” Sever explained. “The result is delivered to the smartphone right in front of you while you run the test, and you have performance comparable to centralized lab testing.”

Sever noted that the test provides results within about 20 minutes. He said existing school staff can administer and read the test with very little training, which could help mitigate staffing concerns found in districts struggling to test large numbers of students.

In an email to Government Technology, the company said additional details about the new program have yet to be decided, but schools will be invited to work with Cue to formulate a testing program that fits their needs and budget.

According to a Mayo Clinic study released in February, the Cue test finds the same result as lab-based molecular tests about 97.8 percent of the time. Unlike other COVID-19 tests that can take days to send results to patients, Sever said the Cue method eliminates the need for lab infrastructure to analyze results.

For administrators and policymakers, he said, accurate and timely results play an important role in ensuring school safety during the ongoing pandemic.

“Testing is a critically important part of returning to in-person learning and being able to screen children before they interact with other teachers and staff, and it’s a really effective way of managing COVID-19 because it allows schools to identify a problem area quickly and quarantine if necessary,” he said. “You’re able to see all the test results on the back end if you’re an administrator.”

In recent efforts to find cheap screening methods, districts have looked to pooled testing, which analyzes combined samples and then uses further testing to narrow down the results if one is positive. Some schools with limited resources have found this method cost-effective and efficient, but criticisms linger about the method’s accuracy and sensitivity, as well as its efficiency when large numbers of positive samples are identified.

“We think [our test] is an appropriate solution because the results go directly into the mobile device and as a result of that, we have every individual’s test results automatically integrated for reporting use,” Sever said.

Last year, the company received $481 million through the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services to produce more tests and loan devices to school districts, including the School District of Philadelphia. According to an emailed statement from the district, the program enabled schools to obtain the test without using district funds. Administrators gave no further comment.

“Part of that contract is for us to be able to grow our manufacturing infrastructure domestically and then deliver those test cartridges,” Sever noted, adding that the DoD contract enabled the company to produce and distribute about 30,000 cartridge readers and 6 million tests.

The company said the test has also been used in other sectors, as well as schools in Seattle, Wash., and Fairbanks, Alaska. The test has been used broadly by the Minnesota Department of Health and elsewhere in clinical settings.

Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.