There’s an old Jewish joke that suggests when three Jews are present in a room, there will be at least five opinions about a particular topic. We Jews have a genetic predisposition for argument, borne of millennia studying holy books and interpreting and reinterpreting their words. One thing that the Coronavirus pandemic has shown is that, like Jews discussing the Talmud, when it comes to Covid, everyone is an expert.

I’d never realised that New Zealand schools teach advanced epidemiology from the earliest stages and that even the lowest qualified of Kiwis can go head to head with Ashley, Siousxie or Michael on the topic du jour. Who would have thought, huh?

So I’m a little loathe to write this article which tells my own particular Covid testing journey. Hopefully it will be seen not as a criticism of the system. The system, all things being equal, has proven remarkable resilient given how dynamic the situation has been for the past couple of years. Rather, this is a story about Kiwi ingenuity, and a demonstration of businesses seizing the bull by the horns and not waiting for “the system.”

Anyway, to my story… A few days before writing this I started feeling a bit under the weather – itchy eyes, sore throat, general malaise. As a critical worker I’ve got a bunch of RAT tests at home and was religiously testing myself with ongoing negative results.

On day three or four of my symptoms, realizing something was up, I called into a pop-up Covid testing station and explained that I was symptomatic but passing negative RAT results. I also explained the fact that in 14 or so days I was scheduled to go overseas. I’d already booked a pre-departure PCR test but was well aware that tests can remain positive for months after a patient recovers from Covid. What this meant was that I would need to show a positive test, have my seven days of isolation and then get a medical certificate to state that I’d caught and then recovered from Covid to allow me to travel.

Explaining all this to the friendly(ish) gent at the testing centre, I was told that they only PCR test those who are immunocompromised or children. He went on to (quite condescendingly, to be honest) tell me that it was probably something else, that there “was lots going around” and that the likelihood of it being Covid was minimal. Or not.

Doing some research online, I discovered that one way to make notoriously inaccurate RATs more accurate is to do a throat AND a nasal swab before testing. I proceeded to nearly make myself vomit shoving a cotton bud down my throat and, you guessed it, I got the dreaded two lines indicating a positive test.

As is my style, I opined on Twitter about the process and got an interesting reply from Jos Ruffell, brewer and Dog Walker at Garage Project, Wellington’s finest craft brewery. It’s an example of recognizing a system that was designed for five million people will, in some cases, be sub-optimal. It’s also and example of making up for that sub-optimality with a little bit of investment:

I was obviously inordinately out of the loop of what was able to be obtained by those with a bit of gumption and sufficient commercial imperative. It seems the fine folks at Garage Project had invested in a Liberty16 PCR testing device. The Liberty16 is the brainchild of a New Zealand company, Ubiquitome Bio. The device allows PCR testing and, in a bonus to the more squeamish among us, it does so from saliva hence no need for sticking an oversized cotton bud up your nose.

The machine costs around $8000 on top of which users need to buy $6000 in reagents but, according to Ruffell it’s essentially a case of prepaying future tests. Once batch processing is happening, the per-test cost is only a couple of dollars.

But in terms of business continuity, this device could really be a lifesaver. Garage Project have apparently caught a number of cases well before they are symptomatic and been able to isolate before other team members get infected. The alternative, given my example, is days of cross-infecting workmates while waiting for a RAT to actually show a positive test.

For Garage Project this was a no-brainer. They keep their business running and give staff the bonus of the earliest heads-up of Covid that is possible. Shout out to the team at Ubiquitome for coming up with this ingenious bit of it.

Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. So far his Covid experience has been pretty benign.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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