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Iowa State University Creates Mail-In COVID-19 Test


AMES, Iowa — Drive-up COVID-19 testing is convenient, but many people are still having to wait days for their results. Now, Iowa State engineers are creating a rapid response COVID-19 test you can take at home and mail in to get your results.

All it takes is your saliva, three cards and an envelope.

“Make it very user-friendly color-coded. Put your sample on this color. Put it on this other one, let it sit overnight. And then just stuffing in the envelope and mail it in,” said Nigel Reuel, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Iowa State University.

That unopened envelope would be scanned by a reader.

“The reader would look kind of like a fax machine that you stick it in and it would scan it and it would quickly tell if it’s positive or negative,” Reuel said.

And then it would give you a text or email with your results. Reuel and his team of seven Iowa State graduate students believe this method of testing will help with contact tracing.

“We can also build a kind of heat map of knowing where the outbreak is, who is it affecting, so that way resources can be better managed and allocated,” Reuel said.

He said it also cuts down on the use of personal protective equipment.

“You go up to a place and they swab you, they have to treat you as positive and so they burn through a lot of personal protective equipment. The hope is it’s all done at home. And once it’s in that envelope, it stays closed and always close. After it’s scanned, it could just be incinerated right there,” Reuel said.

But this rapid response test won’t be available anytime soon.

“We want to be able to vet and see how reliable the technology is by next May. But in terms of a product right then, you have to figure out who’s going to make it and who can make it quickly and at the right specification,” Reuel said.

He hopes by the time it is finished, there will already be a vaccine for COVID-19. Even if there is, he said his product will still be useful because of its adaptability.

“Let’s say SARS-CoV-2 mutates and there’s a new strain or it’s a new pandemic. Essentially, a lot of the device platform all stays the same and you just have to swap out a few different pieces and then you’re ready for the next test,” Reuel said.

Reuel said each test will only cost about $1 or less, but again, it will not be available until after May 2021.


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