Since March 2020, when we learned that China’s “Coronavirus Disease” had entered the United States, more than half a million Americans have died in the pandemic. Included in that horrific death count are more than 450 law enforcement officers, according to the National Fraternal Order of Police.
From the beginning of the pandemic, law enforcement officers and other first responders have been among some of the most at risk Americans. Agencies took a variety of steps to protect their personnel during the height of the crisis. They closed public areas of stations, held roll calls outside, sent non-sworn and even some sworn personnel home, reduced officer contact with the public through online reporting tools and relaxed traffic enforcement. But before the development of the three vaccines currently being shot into millions of American arms, law enforcement agencies had no real defense against COVID, other than masks and distance.
There were two likely sources of COVID exposure for officers and deputies: fellow law enforcement personnel and suspects and subjects. Even knowing that sick suspects and sick officers were great hazards to healthy officers, there was only so much agencies could do about these threats. If an officer felt sick, they could be sent home. If other officers were exposed to the sick guy, they could be quarantined. What law enforcement agencies and other public entities, including schools, needed was a quick and easy COVID test.
And that’s why DetectaChem decided to leverage its colorimetric drug and explosive detection and identification technology to create a COVID testing system. Sold through DetectaChem’s MobileDetect Bio subsidiary, the BCC19 Coronavirus testing system received an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA last summer.
DetectaChem’s Chief Operating Officer Travis Kisner says the company’s COVID test is extremely accurate. “We were 100% on accuracy,” he says. “We hit correctly on every sample for both positive and negative results.”
There are two predominant methods used in COVID-19 testing, antigen and molecular. Antigen tests look for proteins found on the surface of the virus. In contrast and in very simple terms, molecular tests use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to search for the molecular sequence and genetic sequences of the virus. MobileDetect Bio’s BCC19 is a molecular test, using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to detect if a person has the virus. “Molecular testing is very accurate because it looks for the exact pattern of the SARS COV-2 virus,”Kisner says.
The BCC19 test is not only accurate, it’s extremely easy to use. Kisner says the test can be done by individual officers on themselves. However, it probably should be administered by someone with a medical background, especially when testing prisoners. “Law enforcement agencies usually have a relationship with the local fire department and EMS. The fire department or EMS has trained personnel who can help them out,” Kisner says.
Unlike some other COVID-19 tests, the MobileDetect Bio test is painless for the subject. It does not require a nasopharyngeal swab—the all the way up the nose swab that people find uncomfortable. A lower nasal or even oral swab will do. Kisner recommends the lower nasal swab. “It just feels like a Q-tip in your lower nose, and it doesn’t hurt,” he says.
Once the swab is taken, the testing process is very simple. The user puts reagent in a vessel on a PCR test strip. The material from the swab is added to the reagent and then heated for 30 minutes in MobileDetect Bio’s thermal cycler. Users then check the color of the heated material and determine if the subject is positive or negative for COVID. If the material turns yellow, it’s positive. Red is a negative indicator. Each PCR strip can hold 8 samples, and the heater can accommodate up to 12 strips, meaning that an agency can test 96 samples in 30 minutes.
Speed is one of the benefits of the BCC19. Some molecular tests can take hours or even days to get results. Part of the reason it takes so much time to get results from some molecular tests is logistical. The samples have to be sent out to labs. And that is one of the selling points for the MobileDetect Bio test, it can be used on premises. “If you empower your agency to have the capability to run your own test, then you don’t have to wait,” Kisner says, explaining that the testing speed can be critical for a law enforcement agency. “The concern is that you could lose half of your police force to exposure and quarantine,” Kisner says.
The MobileDetect Bio BCC19 is designed to work with DetectaChem’s MobileDetect smartphone app. When used to detect drugs and narcotics, the app is used to assess the color of the results. The COVID test does not require the app for color assessment, but users can access the MobileDetect app to record the results and auto-generate reports with time, date, pictures, virus information, GPS location and more.
MobileDetect Bio is considering the development of rapid testing systems for other diseases. “That’s certainly a possibility,” Kisner says.