Sean Murray

Properly done, employer-led testing for coronavirus is not only a good way for organizations to protect their employees’ health, but also can be an “incredibly cost-effective tool” for expanding testing into the community, says the leader of an emerging test initiative developed by Eurofins USA. 

The adoption of widespread “sentinel” testing for the presence of coronavirus could reduce testing costs significantly for businesses and ease current bottlenecks in receiving test results, said Sean Murray, president of Safer@Work, a pooled testing initiative for COVID-19 devised by Eurofins. 

Eurofins USA is the Des Moines-based U.S. arm of Eurofins Scientific Inc., which has its headquarters in Luxembourg. The company is one of the world’s largest networks of environmental labs, and has been a key testing partner in several states that are currently the national hot spots for COVID-19 infections. 

The company’s Safer@Work initiative seeks to fill a need for testing by employers while also providing a path to enabling broader reopening of communities through proactive testing programs. By using pooled testing techniques as a screening tool and then following up with individual tests if the pooled testing shows positives, Eurofins can offer testing with per-person costs in the neighborhood of $10 to $20 rather than $100 to $200, Murray said. 

“That’s really where this Safer@Work initiative came from, was to make it easier for anybody to access COVID-19 testing and to make their workplace safer,” he said. 

The Safer@Work program already conducts tens of thousands of coronavirus clinical tests daily across thousands of sites. On the environmental or “sentinel” testing side — testing large numbers of pooled samples or worksite samples — the numbers are still much smaller, with several hundred clients across the country and far less volume of samples tested. Largely, that’s because awareness of sentinel testing as a mitigation strategy is just emerging, Murray said. 

Currently, 14 of Eurofins’ U.S. labs are handling clinical testing for COVID, and similar numbers of its labs in Europe and Asia are also doing clinical testing. Additionally, four of its U.S. labs are conducting central processing for environmental testing for organizations across the country,  a program it’s now expanding in Iowa.  

Some of the types of pooled testing that Eurofins does include screening wastewater, tests of surfaces in break rooms and common areas, and tests that detect airborne spread of the virus. Other methods include pooled testing of used disposable masks from employees, as well as pooled testing of nose swab samples that can be taken from all employees at a site. 

With this arsenal of pooled testing techniques, “there is just a massive potential to increase the scale of testing and reduce the costs,” Murray said. 

The Safer@Work initiative is also built into a separate partnership that Eurofins recently announced with West Des Moines-based ITA Group to offer comprehensive testing and screening services for conventions and other large live-event meetings. 

Murray said that Eurofins’ Des Moines laboratories are not currently conducting virus testing, but that it’s possible it may in the future if the ITA Group partnership and other Iowa companies have a large demand for testing. Currently, testing for Iowa companies is handled by its Kansas City lab, which already handles testing for a number of Missouri companies as well as the Missouri prison system. 

One of Murray’s goals is to increase awareness of Safer@Work’s availability to Iowa organizations, particularly those in industries where facilities where people can’t readily social distance, such as senior care centers, manufacturing and food processing plants. 

With sentinel testing of facilities to augment individual testing, the United States could ramp up its current testing pace — currently about 800,000 tests per day — into the millions or even tens of millions people per day who are effectively screened, he said. 

“If you go directly to employers and you’re doing large amounts of testing at once, and you’re doing it without having a plethora of health care professionals involved … you can take a test that, including all the health professionals, costs a couple hundred dollars apiece down into the $10 to $20 range. So you’re talking about an order of magnitude reduction in the overall cost.” 

The education field will be a particularly important niche for pooled testing services offered by Safer@Work, Murray said. 

“We’re talking to a lot of universities around the country, and I’ve had conversations with some of the universities in Iowa,” he said. “We’re starting to talk to high schools, and I do have some conversations that are set up with some of the high schools in the state. We have [school] customers already in other states.” 

Overall, faster turnaround times for testing results from its network of labs that are within driving distance of many U.S. cities will be a big benefit of its Safer@Work program, Murray said. 

“Our goal is to get people access to testing at a convenient price, but also to make it such that turnaround times are very short,” he said. “Because if they’re not, you can’t manage proactively. You have to be able to get the results regularly so that you can use the data for testing and tracing.” 

More information and contacts for the Eurofins Safer@Work program can be found on its website. Properly done, employer-led testing for coronavirus is not only a good way for organizations to protect their employees’ health, but also can be an “incredibly cost-effective tool” for expanding testing into the community, says the leader of an emerging test initiative developed by Eurofins USA. 

The adoption of widespread “sentinel” testing for the presence of coronavirus could reduce testing costs significantly for businesses and ease current bottlenecks in receiving test results, said Sean Murray, president of Safer@Work, a pooled testing initiative for COVID-19 devised by Eurofins. 

Eurofins USA is the Des Moines-based U.S. arm of Eurofins Scientific Inc., which has its headquarters in Luxembourg. The company is one of the world’s largest networks of environmental labs, and has been a key testing partner in several states that are currently the national hot spots for COVID-19 infections. 

The company’s Safer@Work initiative seeks to fill a need for testing by employers while also providing a path to enabling broader reopening of communities through proactive testing programs. By using pooled testing techniques as a screening tool and then following up with individual tests if the pooled testing shows positives, Eurofins can offer testing with per-person costs in the neighborhood of $10 to $20 rather than $100 to $200, Murray said. 

“That’s really where this Safer@Work initiative came from, was to make it easier for anybody to access COVID-19 testing and to make their workplace safer,” he said. 

The Safer@Work program already conducts tens of thousands of coronavirus clinical tests daily across thousands of sites. On the environmental or “sentinel” testing side — testing large numbers of pooled samples or worksite samples — the numbers are still much smaller, with several hundred clients across the country and far less volume of samples tested. Largely, that’s because awareness of sentinel testing as a mitigation strategy is just emerging, Murray said. 

Currently, 14 of Eurofins’ U.S. labs are handling clinical testing for COVID, and similar numbers of its labs in Europe and Asia are also doing clinical testing. Additionally, four of its U.S. labs are conducting central processing for environmental testing for organizations across the country,  a program it’s now expanding in Iowa.  

Some of the types of pooled testing that Eurofins does include screening wastewater, tests of surfaces in break rooms and common areas, and tests that detect airborne spread of the virus. Other methods include pooled testing of used disposable masks from employees, as well as pooled testing of nose swab samples that can be taken from all employees at a site. 

With this arsenal of pooled testing techniques, “there is just a massive potential to increase the scale of testing and reduce the costs,” Murray said. 

The Safer@Work initiative is also built into a separate partnership that Eurofins recently announced with West Des Moines-based ITA Group to offer comprehensive testing and screening services for conventions and other large live-event meetings. 

Murray said that Eurofins’ Des Moines laboratories are not currently conducting virus testing, but that it’s possible it may in the future if the ITA Group partnership and other Iowa companies have a large demand for testing. Currently, testing for Iowa companies is handled by its Kansas City lab, which already handles testing for a number of Missouri companies as well as the Missouri prison system. 

One of Murray’s goals is to increase awareness of Safer@Work’s availability to Iowa organizations, particularly those in industries where facilities where people can’t readily social distance, such as senior care centers, manufacturing and food processing plants. 

With sentinel testing of facilities to augment individual testing, the United States could ramp up its current testing pace — currently about 800,000 tests per day — into the millions or even tens of millions people per day who are effectively screened, he said. 

“If you go directly to employers and you’re doing large amounts of testing at once, and you’re doing it without having a plethora of health care professionals involved … you can take a test that, including all the health professionals, costs a couple hundred dollars apiece down into the $10 to $20 range. So you’re talking about an order of magnitude reduction in the overall cost.” 

The education field will be a particularly important niche for pooled testing services offered by Safer@Work, Murray said. 

“We’re talking to a lot of universities around the country, and I’ve had conversations with some of the universities in Iowa,” he said. “We’re starting to talk to high schools, and I do have some conversations that are set up with some of the high schools in the state. We have [school] customers already in other states.” 

Overall, faster turnaround times for testing results from its network of labs that are within driving distance of many U.S. cities will be a big benefit of its Safer@Work program, Murray said. 

“Our goal is to get people access to testing at a convenient price, but also to make it such that turnaround times are very short,” he said. “Because if they’re not, you can’t manage proactively. You have to be able to get the results regularly so that you can use the data for testing and tracing.” 

More information and contacts for the Eurofins Safer@Work program can be found on its website.