VALPARAISO — As the COVID-19 pandemic was just taking off in the United States a couple of months ago, local Great Lakes Labs President and CEO Michelle Volk decided to invest $250,000 in a state-of-the-art machine that can determine in just 72 minutes whether someone is carrying the potentially deadly virus.
While other, larger labs around the country swooped in and made bigger purchases of the equipment, Volk said Great Lakes Labs is the only one possessing the German-produced Qiagen analyzer in Indiana.
"We wanted to make sure we got it right out of the gate," she said.
In keeping the same momentum to put the equipment into use, Great Lakes Labs is offering testing to the public using this quick test or another that produces results in 24 hours, Volk said.
A doctor's order is not needed, nor does the person seeking the testing need to be showing symptoms, according to the lab.
All that is required is a call to Great Lakes Labs (219-464-8885) for a sample to be taken at a nearby site. Nasal swabs are still being used, but Volk said she has had success with a mouth swab and will know in about a week whether that less-invasive approach can be used.
One client of the quick test wanted to make sure they were healthy before visiting a mother and "time was crucial," she said.
Another couple wanted to make sure they were healthy before visiting a grandchild, she said.
The cost for the 72-minute test is $260, while the 24-hour test is $130, according to the lab.
Neither private insurance companies nor Medicare appear to be paying for the tests, which means individuals should be prepared to pay out of pocket, she said.
During a tour of the lab Tuesday morning, Volk showed off the testing equipment.
"It looks small, but it's powerful," she said of the 72-minute testing equipment, which looks like a cross between a large toaster and a computer.
Another benefit of the quicker test is that unlike the 24-hour model, it also looks for a total of 21 upper respiratory pathogens and three bacteria, Volk said. This proves helpful for patients with symptoms similar to many pathogens.
The quicker test does have less capacity at four tests per 72 minutes, she said. The longer option can handle 96 tests at a time, with Volk hoping to increase that to as many as 400 tests at one shot.
Volk said she is still evaluating the reliability of antibody tests, which would show if someone has already picked up the virus and perhaps not even known. As a result, that test is not yet being offered.