“No thank you.”
This was the Indiana Department of Health’s response to an offer from an Indianapolis laboratory last Thursday to donate as many coronavirus testing kits as Indiana needed to expand testing to asymptomatic individuals. Zak KhanAria Diagnostics, a Carmel resident who co-owns the former toxicology lab on the North Side, is currently overseeing the assembly of up to 100,000 coronavirus test kits per week – and shipping 50,000 of them to New York City for the next eight weeks. That’s more than the 48,396 tests Indiana had conducted – in total – since the outbreak began on Wednesday afternoon.
However, Khan said when he spoke by phone to Indiana state health commissioner Kristina Box last Thursday, April 9, she declined his offer to provide as many kits as needed. However, she stated that the state was short of swabs – so Khan dropped 2,000 the next morning at 7:15 a.m.
Khan, whose company donated 50,000 kits to New York City this week and the city is selling 50,000 kits per week at $ 3.57 per kit for the next two months, says Indiana is only concerned with testing symptomatic individuals. Box said during the governor’s daily briefing on Wednesday that the state was on the verge of testing everyone in that population. Box also noted Monday that the state plans to expand testing to include people at high risk, such as those with underlying conditions.
“Our first priority is our community, our city and the state.”
But that’s not good enough for Khan. He believes everyone needs to be tested – and he is ready to do anything to make it happen. “Look at what’s going on in Iceland,” he says. “They test everyone, sick and healthy. Half of the people who tested positive were asymptomatic. “In the United States, the CDC has estimated that up to 25 percent of people who contract the virus may never show symptoms.
Unlike Indiana, Carmel tests all city workers and first responders, regardless of whether they show symptoms. Khan said eight of the 733 people Aria tested in Carmel on Saturday had tested positive, four of whom were asymptomatic.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb admitted Wednesday that the state health department had been in contact with Aria about testing, but said the partnership was “not planned”. The state’s Joint Information Center says the state health department continues to recommend testing only to those at highest risk due to “testing supplies challenges”.
“ISDH has worked diligently to expand the testing by partnering with Eli Lilly and adding more labs,” the center wrote in an email on Wednesday. “The number of tests reported to ISDH has increased tenfold in the past few weeks, but supplies are still needed in Indiana to expand testing here.”
Khan said Aria could provide up to 50,000 kits per week to help the state test any Hoosier who wants to be screened (but Aria can currently produce 100,000 kits per week, 50,000 of which will go to New York City, but hopes to up to 150,000.) And Khan says he would offer them for free if the state health department didn’t have the budget to pay for them. “If the state needs kits and doesn’t have the budget to buy them from us, I’ll donate them,” he says. “Absolutely.”
Khan founded Aria in 2015 with classmate and molecular biologist Vipin Adhlakha of Carmel High School as a toxicological screening laboratory for narcotics and opioids. The company turned to full-time processing and assembly of coronavirus test kits a few weeks ago, and Khan says it’s been a steep learning curve – he had to hire an entirely new team to put the kits together and schedule tests. (Employees wear full PPE, including face shields, gloves, and what Khan calls the “full bunny suits” found in operating theaters.) Many of the new hires are workers on leave from local restaurants such as Anthony’s Chophouse in Carmel.
“If the state needs kits and doesn’t have the budget to buy them from us, I’ll donate them.”
The deal with New York City came after Khan enlisted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for private sector help to alleviate the kit shortage. Khan reached out to Mayor Bill De Blasio through Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard to offer a donation of 50,000. “I just wanted to do everything I can to help,” he says. “People died and I had to act.” But Brainard, he says, had a grander vision.
“Let’s provide a template for other cities,” suggests Khan Brainard. “Let’s enable them to take care of themselves. Instead of tying them to Aria, we can teach them how to make their own kits. “New York City agreed to purchase 50,000 kits from Aria for up to eight weeks. After that, the city should be able to create its own kits. “Or if they’re ready to do that in six weeks, that’s great,” says Khan. “I want them to be self-sufficient.”
Khan’s new business model is not exactly suitable for profit. He hasn’t seen a penny from insurance companies, and he and Adhlakha are withdrawing checks from their personal bank accounts (he recently took out a $ 4 million loan). For example, he loses money for every test he does for a Medicare patient – the roughly $ 50 he gets for each test is less than half the raw cost of $ 130 – but he says he does be determined to test all of them because it is the right thing to do. “I could go broke,” he says. “But at least after that, my kids will say, ‘My goodness, Papa, you did the right thing.'”
Now all he wishes is Indiana, a state that provides daily reports of the lack of testing needs, would accept his help. “We don’t have any contracts with any other state, so we may have 50,000 kits available for Indiana each week,” says Khan. “Our first priority is our community, our city and the state.”
Anyone can get tested at Aria’s drive-up facility at 5635 West 96th Street, whether or not they have a doctor’s prescription, although insurance will be charged. Aria is offering the test for a cash payment of $ 175. Khan said secure online payment and customer portals will soon be available on the company’s website. The results will be available within 48 hours.
He says if the state is listening it wants them to know that Aria is ready to help in any way necessary. “You have my number,” he says. “It’s all about if you need something, please let me know. If that’s 50,000 kits a week for the next eight weeks, we’d give them to them. Please contact; We’re here to help. “