Australia’s response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic relies on widespread availability of rapid, accurate testing and reporting of results to facilitate contact tracing. The extensive geographical area of Australia presents a logistical challenge, with many of the population located distant from a laboratory capable of robust severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) detection. A strategy to address this is the deployment of a mobile facility utilizing novel diagnostic platforms. This study aimed to evaluate the feasibility of a fully contained transportable SARS-CoV-2 testing laboratory using a range of rapid point-of-care tests.

A 20 ft (6.1 m) shipping container was refurbished (GeneWorks, Adelaide, South Australia) with climate controls, laboratory benches, hand-wash station and a class II biosafety cabinet. Portable marquees situated adjacent to the container served as stations for registration, sample acquisition and personal protective equipment for staff. Specimens were collected and tested on-site utilizing either the Abbott ID NOW or Abbott Panbio rapid tests. SARS-CoV-2 positive results from the rapid platforms or any participants reporting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 were tested on-site by GeneXpert Xpress RT-PCR. All samples were tested in parallel with a standard-of-care RT-PCR test (Panther Fusion SARS-CoV-2 assay) performed at the public health reference laboratory. In-laboratory environmental conditions and data management-related factors were also recorded.

Over a 3 week period, 415 participants were recruited for point-of-care SARS-CoV-2 testing. From time of enrolment, the median result turnaround time was 26 min for the Abbott ID NOW, 32 min for the Abbott Panbio and 75 min for the Xpert Xpress. The environmental conditions of the refurbished shipping container were found to be suitable for all platforms tested, although humidity may have produced condensation within the container. Available software enabled turnaround times to be recorded, although technical malfunction resulted in incomplete data capture.

Transportable container laboratories can enable rapid COVID-19 results at the point of care and may be useful during outbreak settings, particularly in environments that are physically distant from centralized laboratories. They may also be appropriate in resource-limited settings. The results of this pilot study confirm feasibility, although larger trials to validate individual rapid point-of-care testing platforms in this environment are required.

This study was supported by the:
  • Department of Health, State Government of Victoria
    • Principle Award Recipient: BenjaminP Howden
  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. This article was made open access via a Publish and Read agreement between the Microbiology Society and the corresponding author’s institution.

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