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Hc1 and Lab Partners Build Realtime Tracker of COVID-19 Test Data


NEW YORK – Bioinformatics firm Hc1 is leading an initiative to build a dashboard that aims to track and report COVID-19 test results to allow medical systems to better surveil the disease and manage the response to it.

The company and its partners have launched the effort as part of the larger COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, a collection of private sector firms working to address the pandemic. Currently, the dashboard integrates SARS-CoV-2 testing data from more than 20,000 testing locations across the country.

According to Hc1 CEO Brad Bostic, the tool provides test data more rapidly and at a higher geographic resolution than is typically available from public health data sources.

Public health data "generally uses batch type tabulation," he said. "So you don't necessarily see the insights as current as you do with information coming directly from the lab [data] feed."

David Dexter, CEO of Sonora Quest Laboratories, which has a longstanding partnership with Hc1 and is working with the firm on the COVID-19 dashboard, said that the lag time in the reporting of tests results has presented challenges for managing the outbreak.

"So much of the data is anywhere from five days to even two weeks old," he said. Hc1, on the other hand, is able to provide information "essentially in real time on a daily basis," he added.

Indianapolis-based Hc1 collects test data directly from performing laboratories with results uploaded and processed in automated fashion. Prior to the pandemic, the company had relationships with more than 1,000 healthcare and lab sites as part of its regular business. This experience allowed it to quickly scale the COVID-19 effort, which currently covers SARS-CoV-2 test data from every state.

"Our overall platform sees billions of lab tests from all across the country every day," Bostic said. "When [COVID-19 infections] started to ramp up [in the US], we immediately turned to key strategic long-term clients and asked them if they were seeing a need for this. And the feedback we got was, yeah, we're hearing from the governors' offices and the public health agencies and our health system clients that they are very starved for additional insights and information."

Bostic said the initiative continues to add testing sites to the dashboard, and on a single day this week several hundred new sites were added. He predicted that the number of participating sites would increase by around 20 percent over the next two months but added that the project had already reached a critical mass.

"Even if we don't add another ordering location, we have a statistically significant sample of the overall testing that is occurring," he said.

The COVID-19 dashboard updates every four hours with information on the number of tests performed and the number of positive and negative results along with demographic information like the gender and age of patients being tested.

The data can be analyzed at the level of Public Use Microdata Area (PUMA), geographic units of at least 100,000 people that are used by the US Census to provide data reporting at the sub-state level.

"It allows you to put together the zoomed out picture of where the disease is heading and where testing needs to be focused and then also the zoomed-in picture of what specifically is happening in certain populations," Bostic said, adding that this allows providers to better answer questions such as when and where they need to prepare for surges in COVID-19 patients in the ER.

Dexter said that Sonara Quest is using the dashboard to inform clients like Banner Health in their COVID-19 response.

"You can zoom in and zoom out to look at specific areas within the hospital system so that you are looking at positive and negative rates for every single one of those areas," he said. Clients like Banner "get a complete snapshot of the entire system in terms of what it looks like from in-patient, to emergency department, urgent care, wherever it may be."

"Knowing in aggregate what is happening across an entire state doesn't help you that much," Bostic said. "But knowing in a given county that today, you had this many positives, this many negatives, which health systems are there, how many ICU beds do you have, how many ventilators… it allows you to really slice and dice [the data]."

While SARS-Cov-2 testing is currently dominated by molecular assays, Bostic said that Hc1 and its partners plan to incorporate serology testing, as well, once data from that type of testing begins to come in.

"As the antibody tests come online we'll be able to see who might have had the infection but was never symptomatic, for example, or who might have immunity," he said. "So we're certainly taking the long game and building a road map to inform not only the surge and the apex of this but also how do we start looking at the recovery and what happens with respect to outcomes."

Dexter said he expected Sonora Quest to begin serology testing by the end of the month.

He suggested additional information on SARS-CoV-2 could be included as part of the dashboard, noting, for instance, that work like that being done by the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute to sequence the different variants of the virus could provide researchers and clinicians with information on what variants are present and in what proportions throughout the country.

"These are the kinds of things we are doing kind of on the fly – innovating and collaborating in a way that ultimately not only solves [challenges] for this current pandemic but which we think will prepare us better to respond in the future and bring resources to bear more quickly to contain things before they become as widespread as they have," Bostic said.