Twenty-three companies are vying for a portion of Kansas’ $52 million set aside for a unified testing strategy, Marci Nielsen, special adviser to the governor, said Monday.
Gov. Laura Kelly will announce winners of the testing money Wednesday. The companies weren’t named during the meeting between members of the state task force in charge of COVID-19 relief funding.
Only 10 of the applicants are from Kansas.
The unified testing strategy, once implemented, would test asymptomatic people in high-risk areas, with the end goal of surveillance testing. Currently, one needs to have symptoms of the coronavirus to get a test.
Nielsen laid out the criteria that the state would use to assess which companies would be awarded funding.
The first criteria would be assessing the role the company could play in the testing strategy, whether that be with providing testing supplies, collecting and reporting samples or transporting tests to labs. Vendors could do one or multiple of those functions.
The second criteria was how the company would handle testing for high-risk populations, which include nursing homes and assisted living centers, schools, correctional facilities, first responders and essential workers, meat and poultry processing facilities, manufacturing facilities, warehouse distribution centers, construction sites, and service-providing places, such as restaurants.
On this front, companies were asked, regarding population size and regional constraints, the type of test and frequency of testing they would recommend. Companies were also asked how sampling will occur, the price per test and duration given the end-of-year spending deadline for CARES Act money.
"Sampling is often far more complicated than folks realize because you got to have folks who are able to accurately take a sample from the individual, particularly when you’re doing nasal swabs, and to be able to effectively and quickly get those samples from the site where the sample was collected to the lab," Nielsen said.
Some concerns were expressed by task force members on the type of testing companies would provide.
"The deep swab is a non-starter if you’re going to do surveillance and community testing," said Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, referring to the nasal swab method, which can be deeply uncomfortable. "I want to make sure we don’t go down the path because the deep swab is a nonstarter once you go back into the community."
The final, main criteria was what companies could provide in terms of outside-the-box ideas to support a unified testing strategy. Some proposals included potential software applications, standardized testing kits or centralized reporting mechanisms.
Fifteen companies provided information on the first criteria, while four dove into details on their strategy for testing high-risk populations, Nielsen said. Eleven applicants supplied details on the third criteria.
The push for implementing the unified testing strategy will move on as quickly as possible, Nielsen said. But in the background, there was concern about who would pay for the tests.
Currently, health insurance is required to cover COVID-19 tests only if a provider asks for one for the patient, and that depends on whether one shows symptoms.
"What’s less clear is how we start to do screening tests and who’s going to pay for that," Nielsen said. "That’s being rabbled with right now at the federal level."
"The diagnoistics tests aren’t cheap," she added, noting that the $5 rapid testing method isn’t accurate enough for diagnostic purposes.
There will be a team to assist in accountability for the companies that win the money, Nielsen said.