Lehigh Valley company developing cheek swab COVID-19 test

BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Easy, widespread testing for coronavirus is a big key to getting, and keeping, the American economy open, experts say.

A Lehigh Valley company now has a federal contract to develop a COVID-19 test similar to the version of its widely-used rapid HIV test.

Millions of people have used the gum swab test made by OraSure to check their HIV status.

Last year, the company developed a version to test for the Ebola virus.

Now, the department of Health and Human Services is asking it to develop one to detect active infections of COVID-19.

The HIV test, sold under the name OraQuick, is self-contained.

A user collects saliva by running a swab between their cheek and gums, putting it into a small tube of liquid, and waiting 20 minutes or so for results.

Bars that appear on the other end of the stick show whether a person is negative or positive.

"What that will do is allow people to know in the comfort of their home in 20 to 30 minutes whether they are infectious. And if they are infectious, they should isolate themselves. If they're not infectious, they may be eligible to return to more or less normal life, including going back to their jobs," said Orasure Technologies CEO Stephen Tang.

"Employers would probably be very interested to know and be assured that their employees aren't infecting each other," he adds

Tang said his team is working toward having the new test ready and getting FDA clearance by September.

Orasure plans to have several million available at that time, then tens of millions in the months after that.

It has a grant to develop the test, but is looking for private partners to manufacture that many.
Copyright © 2020 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.