Citigroup study: Will rapid home tests keep New York traders, Chicago bank tellers on the job?

Citigroup Inc. has joined a study to evaluate whether frequent and rapid at-home COVID-19 tests for about 6,000 employees can help the banking conglomerate reduce virus transmission among workers.

The study could provide evidence on whether at-home rapid testing helps large workplaces safely reopen, one year after the pandemic shut down large employers and sent workers home to work remotely.

The Citigroup study, led by Harvard epidemiologist and rapid testing advocate Dr. Michael Mina, will monitor employees who use Innova’s rapid test at home every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Employees will use an app to report results and also answer health screening questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they are not tested. Those who test positive will stay home and results will be confirmed with a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test, which are considered more sensitive.

About 1,000 Citigroup employees at Chicago-area branches and traders in New York are now regularly testing themselves at home. The study will enroll about 6,000 employees and last four months.

Innova’s rapid antigen test that has yet to gain authorization from the Food and Drug Administration but is the primary tool for United Kingdom’s mass testing program. The test is used in tandem with the Bella Health app, created by the artificial intelligence company LivePerson.

The study will evaluate whether rapid testing can prevent workplace infections by identifying people who have the virus but show no symptoms. When the tests inform such workers about their positive status, they stay home to prevent spreading the virus to coworkers.

The study also will measure how well people use the mobile app and whether it allows them to test appropriately and effectively, Mina said.

He expects the study will provide businesses, schools and colleges who are considering mass testing programs a roadmap that whether rapid testing used with an app works.

Although there is optimism that widespread vaccinations can help curb the spread of COVID-19, Mina predicts cases will again surge in the fall with coronavirus variants.

“I want to see us in a much better position overall to be able to use modern technology to help curb spread of pandemic viruses today and in the future,” Mina said.

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized hundreds of tests using varied technologies for use in labs, point-of-care in medical settings and home tests. However, consumers have limited options if they want to buy tests that can deliver results at home and without a prescription.

The Biden administration said it will purchase more than 60 million rapid tests from six unidentified suppliers by the end of summer. The Department of Defense also reached a $230 million deal with Australia-based Ellume to open a U.S. factory and make 19 million antigen tests each month, 8.5 million of which will be provided to the federal government.

Cleared by the FDA in December, the $30 Ellume test can be used at home without a prescription, doesn’t need a lab and can deliver results in 15 minutes. Last week, the FDA authorized a rapid PCR home test made by San Diego-based Cue Health that also won’t need a prescription. The company has not said how much the test will cost or when it will be available.

Abbott BinaxNow’s test can be used at home but requires a telehealth provider’s referral. Other home tests require people to send saliva or nasal swab samples to an outside lab.

Mina said he does not expect the Citigroup pilot study will yield data for Innova to see FDA authorization for the test. The company’s top executive told USA TODAY that several studies are underway to demonstrate the accuracy of Innova’s test, which costs less than $5 and can deliver results within 30 minutes.

Mina’s team is monitoring results from the Citigroup pilot on “near daily basis” but are not interacting with study participants. Already, the pilot has identified employees who had no symptoms but stayed home from work after testing positive, Mina said.

He believes widespread adoption of inexpensive home tests can slow infections and limit outbreaks.

“If we start using these types of tests at a massive scale, we can actually find we can curb epidemics,” Mina said. “Not just keep a specific location safe. But actually bend the arc of an epidemic.”

Ken Alltucker is on Twitter at @kalltucker, or can be emailed at alltuck@usatoday.com

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