By Jaewon Kang 

Kroger Co. said it is providing a coronavirus test for its employees to use at home, as retailers and other companies redouble efforts to protect employees and customers amid the pandemic.

Kroger is processing the tests in a partnership with Gravity Diagnostics LLC, a Kentucky-based laboratory-testing company. The Food and Drug Administration said it authorized the partnership's kit in June. Kroger and Gravity said they plan to have the capacity to process 60,000 tests a week by the end of this month.

"We moved faster on this than we ever have," said Colleen Lindholz, president of Cincinnati-based Kroger's health-care business and a pharmacist by training. She said Kroger has spent millions of dollars on the effort.

Retailers from Walmart Inc. to CVS Health Corp. are running Covid-19 testing centers at some stores, but few have struck partnerships to design their own tests for workers. Amazon.com Inc. said in April that it started assembling equipment to establish a lab for testing its employees. Nationwide, waits for Covid-19 tests are climbing because of high demand and supply shortages. Kroger said it can take as little as four days for people to get their results from its kit, but the duration depends on how quickly collection and shipment occur.

The recent surge in coronavirus cases is also pushing companies to rethink how they are protecting their workers. Kroger and Walmart said last week that they would require staff and customers to wear masks in stores.

Gravity Chief Executive Anthony Remington said his company is opening an additional laboratory in August to process up to 12,000 test results a day from the Kroger kit. The companies suspect that will be enough to cover Covid-19 cases among the more than 500,000 workers at Kroger's roughly 2,700 stores as well as results from kits that Kroger plans to sell to other businesses and universities. Kroger said it is in discussions with manufacturers, distributors and athletic programs as it pilots the kits with a smaller pool of employees.

An FDA spokesman said it has authorized 15 so-called in vitro diagnostic devices for home use, including Kroger's. The spokesman said these tests have been authorized for emergency use because of the pandemic.

Kroger said it is providing the kits free of charge to employees who suspect they are infected. Mr. Remington said it costs about $60 to ship and process a Covid-19 test kit.

To use the at-home kits, employees undergo an online clinical assessment to receive a prescription for a Covid-19 test. After they receive the kit in a day or two via United Parcel Service Inc., they virtually connect with a Kroger health professional who walks them through using and packaging its nasal swab. Next, they ship the kit to Gravity's laboratory. Results are communicated within two to three days.

Gravity, which has quadrupled its workforce to about 180 to handle more coronavirus tests, said it can process results in under 48 hours. Kroger is funding Gravity's new lab and is training Kroger's physicians to offer video consulting, which the company said improves accuracy rates of the tests.

Kroger and Gravity are also working together to process Covid-19 tests at drive-through centers in 19 states. So far, they have run more than 100,000 tests separate from the at-home kits they developed together.

Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents workers at grocery stores and food-processing plants, welcomed Kroger's testing plan but said companies should also offer more training to keep employees healthy and to handle interactions with customers.

"It's better than no testing at all," he said.

Write to Jaewon Kang at jaewon.kang@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 20, 2020 07:25 ET (11:25 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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