North suburbs partnering with private laboratory for weekly COVID-19 tests

Aria Diagnostics LLC is partnering with a several suburbs north of Indianapolis to offer first responders and public employees weekly coronavirus testing.

Zak Khan, a partner at Aria, said the Indianapolis-based toxicology laboratory’s drive-thru and mobile testing service for COVID-19 has seen slow growth since it launched in late March. Now, the lab is increasing its capacity to test certain employees of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Whitestown and other suburban cities.

On Monday, the city of Carmel started sending its first responders and any employees working in teams or with the public to get tested at Aria’s drive-up facility at 5635 W. 96th St.

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said city employees covered under the arrangement will be required to take a weekly test, even if they’re not showing symptoms.

“Some may question the necessity for widespread testing of our city staff, but we cannot afford to err on the side of caution for this killer virus that has changed our way of life around the world,” Brainard said in a written statement. “It should save lives if we can test our first responders and city staff who are dealing with many people in the public and are asymptomatic but are carrying the virus.”

Brainard and Khan’s approach has been partially informed by findings in Iceland, which is conducting widespread testing for COVID-19 on both sick and healthy people. That approach came after Decode Genetics, a subsidiary of U.S. biotech company Amgen, found that nearly half the people who tested positive for the virus in one study had experienced no symptoms.

“We saw a need to test everyone,” Khan said.

Currently, the public can schedule an appointment with Aria to get tested for $175 if they have a doctor’s order. Khan said financial arrangements were still be made with some of the cities.

Though he doesn’t want to go bankrupt, when it comes to first responders, Khan said “money or no money, I don’t care.”

For its part, Brainard said Carmel will draw from its $1.98 million health insurance fund to pay $150 for each test. That way, the self-insured city will be able to have its employees tested each week without forcing them to pay any out-of-pocket costs.

That money, he said, will be reimbursed under the federal coronavirus relief act.

Khan said Aria has around 13,000 test kits that it amassed from a variety of online vendors and other distributors who had stockpiled kits prior to the outbreak. Another 10,000 kits are coming in the next week.

Khan said he’s working to form a new company—Apex Medical—to manufacture nasal swabs and sample receptacles needed for testing.

Aria has already bought enough materials to do 50,000 tests a week—the company just needs enough clean space to put the tests together.

“The goal is really to teach other communities how to do it,” Khan said.

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