Report: Amazon and Gates Foundation aim to team up with scientists on home test kits for coronavirus
BY ALAN BOYLE on March 11, 2020 at 3:16 pm
Ongoing coverage of the novel coronavirus, and its impact on Seattle and the technology industry. See all special coverage.
A lab worker at the University of Washington Virology Lab gets a virus sample ready for testing. Details of the package have been obscured to ensure privacy protection. (UW Medicine via YouTube)
Amazon Care is offering assistance to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a plan to deliver coronavirus test kits to Seattle homes, CNBC reports.
The plan as described hints at a grand convergence involving two major players on Seattle’s tech scene, plus the University of Washington and the Seattle Flu Study.
Amazon Care is an on-demand healthcare clinic that’s open on a pilot basis to Seattle-area Amazon employees and their families. CNBC quoted unnamed sources as saying Amazon has offered to come up with a plan to deliver the test kits, which include nasal swabs to take samples, at no cost.
In an email to GeekWire, an Amazon spokesperson said “we’re in discussions with leaders in public health about how we can help” – but didn’t provide further details.
Amazon’s involvement builds on the Gates Foundation’s plan to leverage a program created by the Seattle Flu Study, a consortium of researchers that’s been tracking the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in the Seattle area for weeks.
Coronavirus Live Updates: The latest COVID-19 developments in Seattle and the world of tech
This week, regulators stopped the Seattle Flu Study from performing tests for coronavirus and sharing the results, due to the fact that the researchers didn’t have approval for clinical applications of their testing protocol. But the study’s principal investigator, UW geneticist Jay Shendure, said he and his colleagues saw a “path forward” to resuming their work.
Although Shendure didn’t go into detail about that path, Trevor Bedford of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said in a tweet that UW’s Virology Lab would be involved.
Last week, the virology lab began conducting its own coronavirus tests, thanks to a go-ahead that the Food and Drug Administration issued under emergency guidelines. The lab’s managers say they’re performing more than 900 tests a day and could improve that pace to as many as 5,000 tests daily.
That pace could mesh with the Gates Foundation’s objective to monitor and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak more closely. Last week, the foundation pledged $5 million to boost detection efforts in the Seattle area, in part by building upon the work of the Seattle Flu Study.
Today, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and other regional officials announced a sweeping campaign to control the spread of coronavirus, including school closures and strict limitations on public gatherings in the Seattle area. Epidemiologists say doing a better job of identifying people who have the virus will be key to taking more precisely targeted actions.
We’ve reached out to the Gates Foundation, the Seattle Flu Study and UW Medicine, and will update this report with anything we hear back.
More: Coronavirus Outbreak
GeekWire aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle is an award-winning science writer and veteran space reporter. Formerly of NBCNews.com, he is the author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference." Follow him via CosmicLog.com, on Twitter @b0yle, and on Facebook and MeWe.