Company creates way to detect COVID-19 earlier

Method involves taking sample of mask, testing it



“We’re catching people long before they feel sick typically, and that reduces the number of people in the duration of exposure,” said Ethan Adams, CEO of Veterinary Medical Research & Development.

ANNA MICHALSON, Evergreen reporter

Pullman’s Veterinary Medical Research & Development is conducting a new method to collect COVID-19 samples using previously worn face masks.

The sample collection allows for early detection of COVID-19, even among people who are asymptomatic and presymptomatic. Dr. Siddra Hines, VMRD veterinarian and research scientist, said the sample collection is not a substitute for the nasal swab method, but an early indicator to keep more people safe. 

“This is more like a first line of defense, an early warning system if you will,” Hines said.

The sample collecting is done by punching a hole in a used medical-grade disposable mask. Then, employees place the sample in a vial with a liquid in it that preserves the sample while it is prepared for testing, Hines said.  

“As far as we know, there is nothing out there that is similar,” she said.

VMRD started this method of sample collection because the employees started packaging the liquid that preserves traces of the virus for testing. They wanted to make sure their work environment was not exposed to the virus, Hines said.

CEO Ethan Adams said this sample collection method keeps employees safer because it can detect the virus sooner.

“If someone is at work here, and we wait until they have symptoms, they have already been exposing other employees for quite some time,” Adams said. “We’re catching people long before they feel sick typically, and that reduces the number of people in the duration of exposure.”

Adams said the sample collection method is not a substitution for public health testing, but rather a way to detect the virus before it spreads. If the virus is detected on a mask sample, employees will not know whether the virus was on the outside of the mask or if it came from the individual wearing it. 

VMRD is working toward a patent for its sample collection method, but COVID-19 limitations have slowed down that process, he said.

The sample collecting has only been conducted within VMRD, but Hines said she hopes to extend this service to essential workers and is in the process of working with other labs to do so.

Sample collection proved to be successful within VMRD’s work environment. Adams said after the company started this, staff did not see any transmission of the virus among employees.