A Year Into the Pandemic, COVID-19 Tests Can Be ‘Cheaper Than a Latte’

Breanna De Vera

Breanna de Vera is dot.LA's editorial intern. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California, studying journalism and English literature. She previously reported for the campus publications The Daily Trojan and Annenberg Media.

A Year Into the Pandemic, COVID-19 Tests Can Be ‘Cheaper Than a Latte’

In the first few months of the pandemic, there was no way to buy a COVID-19 test. Then, tests were only done in labs and took several days, if not weeks. So in July, Culver City-based XPRIZE offered $5 million to any group that could make testing accessible and affordable for companies and schools trying to reopen.


On Tuesday, XPRIZE named five winners all developing tests that take less than 12 hours, cost $15 or less and are relatively less painful than the nasal swabs or as Jeff Huber, the XPRIZE Rapid COVID Testing Tech Lead and co-founder of OpenCovidScreen, call them "nasal torture devices."

One solution called the V-CHEK by Carlsbad-based Reliable LFC takes only 10 minutes to determine whether someone is COVID-19 positive. It is the only antigen testing solution among the winners; the other four are RNA testing, which can be slower, though more accurate.

"'Drive-thru testing center' is a misnomer," said Bill Pagels, CEO of Reliable LFC. "Most of them are not drive-thru testing centers, they're drive-thru sampling centers. So what we plan to do is make sure they are drive-thru testing centers, and provide people with results on the spot."

V-CHEK will likely receive FDA emergency use authorization in the next few months, and begin rolling out its tests to in-car testing centers. Pagels said military units and airports are also target markets where the speed of testing is imperative.

ChromaCode and Mirimus already have commercial solutions available, and the other three teams are in the process of regulatory approval, according to Huber.

Other winners include the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and Alveo Technologies. All will each receive $500,000 to develop their solutions and produce enough to deploy on a large scale. After a successful large scale rollout to testing centers and other target markets, the teams will each receive another $500,000.

In addition to their accuracy and safety, the teams were judged across four factors in COVID-19 testing: frequency, quick turn around, affordability and ease. Testing regularly is one of the key components to safely open schools and businesses, Huber said. Because of this, the deep nasal swabs from earlier in the pandemic with a multi-day wait for results aren't a feasible solution for most consumers, especially when tests were running over $100 each.

"Our target for the competition was that you should be able to get a high-quality test for less than the price of a latte," said Huber. "We relaxed that a little bit to expand the pool, But the goal — the absolute cutoff — was a test result for less than $15."

Over 700 teams applied to the competition. The XPRIZE judges narrowed the pool down to 200. Each team was sent a set of synthetic samples, which they tested and then returned the results. 20 semifinalists were selected, and they sent their testing kits to independent XPRIZE judges at two different laboratories to be clinically validated.

Four other teams were selected for the Open Innovation Track, for solutions that couldn't be tested using XPRIZE's methods. Some are breathalyzer tests, and because of the difficulty of capturing a breath sample, they were not able to be tested like the other competitors. They'll share a prize pool of $1 million.

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10 TikTok Gadgets That Went Viral In 2022

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

10 TikTok Gadgets That Went Viral In 2022

Part of TikTok’s evolution over the years includes becoming another outlet for consumers to purchase popular gadgets. The app generated $821 million in global consumer spending across the App Store and Google Play in the first quarter of 2022 alone.

And since the holiday season is among us, it’s time to get some gifts checked off your list. So here’s 10 tech gadgets that went viral on TikTok that you can buy for your loved ones.

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LA Tech ‘Moves’: Disney Taps Bob Iger for CEO, Former Meta Exec Joins DeSo

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

LA Tech ‘Moves’: Disney Taps Bob Iger for CEO, Former Meta Exec Joins DeSo
LA Tech ‘Moves’:

“Moves,” our roundup of job changes in L.A. tech, is presented by Interchange.LA, dot.LA's recruiting and career platform connecting Southern California's most exciting companies with top tech talent. Create a free Interchange.LA profile here—and if you're looking for ways to supercharge your recruiting efforts, find out more about Interchange.LA's white-glove recruiting service by emailing Sharmineh O’Farrill Lewis (sharmineh@dot.la). Please send job changes and personnel moves to moves@dot.la.

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This Week in ‘Raises’: Swell Energy Lands $120M, Modyfi Draws in $8M

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

This Week in ‘Raises’: Swell Energy Lands $120M, Modyfi Draws in $8M
This Week in ‘Raises’:

As funding in Los Angeles continues to slow down, Swell Energy still managed to raise fresh funding to accelerate the company's mission to deploy 26,000 energy storage systems in homes and businesses across the United States.

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