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Not wanting to wait for COVID-19 tests, some Connecticut businesses obtain their own

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The shortage of coronavirus tests across the country and in Connecticut has led some essential businesses in the state to seek out test kits on their own, so they can more quickly determine whether it’s safe for their employees to show up to work.

In response to the testing shortage, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the development of various coronavirus tests on an emergency basis, including one that can detect the virus through saliva samples.

Bozrah-based manufacturer Gilman Brothers, which makes foam board materials used for signage and exhibits, deemed an essential business by the state during the pandemic, recently purchased 10 saliva tests from Texas-based company MicroGenDX.

John Uliano, director of operations at Gilman Brothers, said the kits give the company the capability to test its employees right away without them having to try to get a testing appointment and then wait several days for their results.

“It’s comforting to have it as an option,” Uliano said. “There’s nothing stopping us from getting results in 24 hours.”

MicroGenDX can process 10,000 samples per day and can provide results within 24 hours, said Dominic Cuozzo, an account executive with the company. The test, which must be authorized by a physician, costs $99, plus $10 for shipping, Cuozzo said.

“Saliva testing for COVID-19 is a major advance because it reduces the need for swabs and health care worker PPE (personal protective equipment), both of which are in very short supply,” said Summer Johnson McGee, dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven.

Collecting saliva samples is less invasive than using nasal and oral swabs and is self-administered. As with at-home genealogy tests, a patient spits into a vial then sends the vial to a lab for analysis. However, it is not considered an at-home test, since it still requires authorization from a medical professional.

Early data shows that the saliva test is as accurate and effective as existing nasal swab tests, McGee said, and if that continues to be accurate on a larger scale over time, “this testing may be key to ramping up our capacity and a critical part of our reopening of the economy nationwide.” 

Connecticut has indicated its interest in the saliva test as a way to increase its testing capacity, which Gov. Ned Lamont said is a major consideration in his decision to begin to ease some of the social distancing restrictions he's put in place. Josh Geballe, the governor's chief operating officer, said at a news conference last week that given the global shortage of swabs, the state is looking at other testing methods, such as collecting saliva samples, to determine if someone has COVID-19.

"That would be a real game-changer and that should not be too far down the horizon,” Geballe said.

Brian Montanari, CEO and president of HABCO Industries, a Glastonbury-based aerospace manufacturer, said he believes his company, which has just under 100 employees, was the first in Connecticut to procure the saliva test. He ordered 200 tests from MicroGenDX a few weeks ago.

Thirty employees, including the six-member executive team and those who can't do their jobs from home, have provided saliva samples so far. The test is voluntary, and the company contracted with a nurse practitioner to authorize it and inform employees of their results. So far, no one has tested positive, Montanari said.

"This to me is the next step," he said, in addition to the host of other measures HABCO and other essential businesses have put in place, such as splitting operational employees into two shifts so there's no overlap and to give the company ample time for cleaning, and requiring any employee whose temperature is over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit to stay home.

Montanari said once Lamont begins to loosen some of his restrictions, the saliva test will enable him to start allowing employees working from home to come back on site and also provide "comfort" to employees, so they'll know it's safe to return to work.

j.bergman@theday.com

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