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'This is a game-changer': Mills announces 'major' expansion for COVID-19 testing

The State has partnered with IDEXX to more than triple its testing capacity, the Governor's Office says.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday that the state has secured a 'major expansion' of COVID-19 testing, partnering with Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. The State will purchase enough of the company's recently authorized COVID-19 testing kits to more than triple the State's testing capacity, according to the Governor's Office. 

IDEXX is a worldwide leader in animal diagnostics, also has deep expertise in human diagnostics through its human health business, OPTI Medical Systems. Earlier today, IDEXX announced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) has granted OPTI Medical Systems an Emergency Use Authorization for IDEXX’s OPTI SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR laboratory test kit for the detection of the 2019 novel coronavirus.

The Mills Administration is purchasing enough of these test kits to run at least 5,000 tests per week for the foreseeable future. Taken in combination with Maine CDC’s current capacity of 2,000 tests per week, the partnership with IDEXX more than triples the State of Maine’s testing capacity. 

“This changes everything,” Mills said in a statement. “Acquiring this testing capacity is a major breakthrough for all the people of Maine."

RELATED: WATCH LIVE 12 Noon: Gov Janet Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah provide Thursday's coronavirus update

These tests are in addition to those conducted for Maine residents by private and commercial labs in and outside of Maine. Additionally, IDEXX is loaning a testing instrument to the State lab in Augusta to help accommodate the higher testing volume. Maine CDC is hiring additional staff at HETL to support the expansion.

IDEXX is also donating enough test kits to conduct 3,500 tests. 

“This is a game-changer,” Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said. “It will allow us to move to a next level of testing that is crucial to monitoring the public health implications of a phased reopening of Maine businesses and gathering places.”

RELATED: Maine lab IDEXX gets FDA Emergency Use Authorization for its coronavirus test

This significant expansion of testing will ultimately allow Maine CDC to eliminate its testing prioritization system, which most states have had to implement as a result of the limited national supply of testing materials. 

After testing with the new instrument and materials is operational, which is expected as early as the end of next week, health care providers in Maine will be able to seek testing for anyone they suspect of having COVID-19. This includes people with symptoms, as well as those who have had significant, close contact with a person with COVID-19, such as a spouse. 

The breakthrough will also allow the State to more fully implement universal testing in congregate care settings, such as nursing facilities and shelters, and enable the State to work with providers to conduct voluntary sentinel testing, or “spot checks," on patients in different parts of the health care system.

The Governor's Office says the expansion of testing is also crucial to gradually restarting the economy and is one of the four guiding principles in the Governor’s plan for reopening Maine. 

"With this additional capacity, Maine CDC will be able to better gauge the prevalence of the virus throughout the State," the Mills Administration said in a press release. "These data will help inform the appropriateness of lifting restrictions and moving through reopening stages."

Maine CDC has also recently received testing supplies for its second King Fisher testing platform, which will further expand capacity. Additionally, the Mills Administration says they are continuing to press the Federal government to ensure that health care providers have a reliable and adequate supply of materials, such as swabs, to collect samples from patients for testing.

Mills will join Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah and Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew at the daily coronavirus briefing to speak more about the testing announcement. 

NEWS CENTER Maine will stream the briefing live on air, as well as on our website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and mobile app

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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

NEWS CENTER Maine Coronavirus Coverage

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