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State teams with IDEXX to expand coronavirus, COVID-19 testing

“This testing is crucial for reopening the economy,” Gov. Mills said on IDEXX to expand coronavirus, COVID-19 testing.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Mills Administration on Thursday announced it has agreed to partner with IDEXX Labs to significantly increase the number of tests being done in Maine for COVID-19. Gov. Janet Mills announced the agreement, saying they had been working with IDEXX for some time, and only waiting for the FDA to approve the biomedical company’s new test. That approval, she said at the daily Maine CDC briefing, came Thursday morning.

“This breakthrough will allow more universal testing of health care (facilities). Providers all across Maine will be able to seek testing for anyone suspected of COVID 19," Mills said.

Under the agreement, IDEXX will sell the state 5,000 tests per week, donate some additional tests, and lend the Maine CDC a machine to do the actual testing. The Maine CDC has been doing roughly 2,300 tests per week, according to Director Dr. Nirav Shah, who said adding the IDEXX tests will bring the total testing capacity to more than 7,000 per week, effectively tripling the amount of testing at the State lab.

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“It will bring you closer to the goal that any practitioner in Maine who wants a test can do so without worry about availability,” Dr. Shah said. “It will also allow us to continue being a leader in testing in congregate care facilities." 

He said an added benefit of the arrangement is that Maine will also have access to the chemical “reagents” needed to conduct both the current kind of tests and the new Idexx tests. Those chemicals have had supply problems nationally, which at one point delayed Maine CDC testing significantly. Dr. Shah said the Idexx makes “vast quantities” of the chemical reagents for its own use, and that Maine will have access to a ready supply, further enduring tests can be done whenever needed.

There will still not be able to test every person in Maine, but Dr. Shah said they should be able to test everyone with symptoms or even suspected of having the virus, which would be a change from current practice. He said after the testing is established he state could approach Idexx to obtain more if desired.

The initial agreement calls for Maine to purchase about $750,000 worth of tests, with the cost paid by federal funds.

Mills said the increase in testing could allow the state to ease some current restrictions on when businesses can open.

“This testing is crucial for reopening the economy,” Mills said.

“With this added capacity the CDC will be better able to gauge the prevalence of the virus, and that data, in turn, will help inform the appropriateness of changes to moving the reopening phases. As a result, we plan to update the plan very soon."

The Maine CDC says it hopes to have the new tests in use within the next two weeks. 

RELATED: Maine awarded nearly $5 million in federal funding to expand COVID-19 testing

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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