Tommy Ahlquist

Tommy Ahlquist, CEO of Ball Ventures Ahlquist, seen Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, in Meridian.

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A group of Idaho businesses on Tuesday announced their collaborative efforts to improve access to as many as 1,000 COVID-19 tests daily for Idaho’s essential workers.

A total of 18 companies in Idaho are participating in the Crush the Curve project, according to a news release from Ball Ventures Ahlquist. The goal is to test all workers deemed essential under Gov. Brad Little’s Mar. 25 stay-at-home order. Many of those workers, since they’re essential, are still going to work every day, and could be inadvertently spreading the novel coronavirus. Crush the Curve aims to test all essential workers — such as health care workers, grocery store workers, food service workers and delivery drivers — to help slow the spread, according to the release.

“This initiative is targeting employees with mild symptoms who are on the frontline, at risk every day and do not have access to testing,” Ed Castledine, CEO of Saltzer Health, said in the announcement.

The project was a meaningful one for developer and business owner Tommy Ahlquist, a former physician.

“This is what kept me up at night — I was an ER doc. … I’d see a lot of patients,” Ahlquist, CEO of BVA, told the Idaho Press Tuesday. “I can’t imagine going to work with a team of doctors and nurses and everyone else, and not having them tested to know if they have it.”

In the announcement, Ahlquist said “we have been woefully undertesting in Idaho.”

He and a team of other business leaders have been working to get the Crush the Curve initiative up and running since Thursday, he said during an interview. The program mirrors a similar effort in Utah, Ahlquist said; he reached out to people he knew in Salt Lake City and asked for their help. Ahlquist also lauded Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox for his help as well.

“We just got all our teams together and we just said go 24/7,” Ahlquist said.

He said there the effort included teams dedicated to finding personal protective equipment as well as lab supplies.

“That’s been the real confusing thing to me, is that the messaging out there is that, ‘We would be testing more people but we can’t,’” Ahlquist said. “And then, in three days, we found more than enough tests.”

People can take an assessment through Crush the Curve Idaho’s website that will determine if they should be tested. If they should be, they will receive a call to set up an appointment to get tested.

“In the Treasure Valley, tests will be administered by Saltzer Health at their two Nampa urgent care locations and remotely by arrangement at the workplace where appropriate,” according to the release. (BVA acquired Saltzer last year.) “ will also work with testing sites outside of the Treasure Valley and companies all over Idaho needing help as they navigate getting employees back to work. Results will be reported back to the patient within two business days.”

Positive tests will be sent to the state for assistance in tracing anyone else the person has had contact with.

Testing will begin on Wednesday, according to the release.

The initiative isn’t limited to the Treasure Valley, however — Ahlquist said he knows of other parts of the state without access to testing. The goal is to help those areas obtain test kits as well.

“Even if we’re doing 1,500 to 2,000 tests a day for the next couple weeks, that is valuable information,” Ahlquist said.

The next step, he said, is to start testing people to see if they have developed antibodies in response to the presence of the virus, which would mean they are immune. Ahlquist said he and his collaborators are working on securing those tests as well.

So far in Idaho, nearly 11,900 people have been tested in Idaho. About 20% were tested through the state lab, and the rest through commercial labs.

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