New coronavirus test provides results in 5 minutes — and could arrive this week

id now coronavirus test
(Image credit: Abbott Laboratories)

A test that can tell if you've got COVID-19 in as little as five minutes has been cleared by U.S. regulators and could land in doctors' hands as soon as Wednesday.

On Friday (March 27), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization to Abbott Labs for the medical device maker's molecular point-of-care test that can detect the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in patients. With that authorization in place, Abbott says it can ramp up manufacturing to deliver 50,000 tests per day starting April 1.

Abbott Labs' test uses the company's ID Now platform, which Bloomberg says is the most common point-of-care test currently available in the U.S. ID Now features a 6.6-pound device that's about the size of a toaster. Doctors currently use it to test for various types of influenza, strep throat and other respiratory viruses.

In the case of coronavirus testing, clinicians would take a swab from the patient's nose or throat and insert it into the ID Now device. During the test, the machine scans for traces of coronavirus genome. It can produce a positive result in five minutes, though a negative test takes a little bit longer — 13 minutes, according to Abbott Labs.

Still, that quick turnaround is vital to doctors, who can use the results to get a more accurate sense of the coronavirus outbreak's scope and make decisions on further care. It also helps that the test can be conducted on a platform that has 18,000 units across the country, according to Bloomberg's figures. 

Quick diagnosis is becoming a priority as the coronavirus spreads, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying there could potentially be 100,000 to 200,000 deaths related to the outbreak.

This isn't a home testing solution. Instead, it's going straight to healthcare providers in urgent care settings. Abbott Labs says it will work with the Trump administration on where to deploy its tests. Of course, that news comes at the same time that the administration has come under fire for haphazardly distributing resources to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

The FDA's emergency clearance for Abbott's faster COVID-19 test comes shortly after researches in the UK developed a coronavirus home test that could provide results in 30 minutes. Abbott has also won approval for its m2000 RealTime system to be used in hospitals; that system can produce up to 1 million tests per week.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.