Innovation in the Face of Adversity: A Data Scientist’s Reflection on the Development of America’s first At-Home Covid-19 Test Kit

Jonathan D. Gough, Ph.D.
April 6, 2023
Advanced Analytics | Blogs

It’s hard to believe that it was around this time only three years ago that the world as we knew it changed forever. In March of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic first emerged in America, and our lives were upended by an invisible enemy. As a nation, we experienced feelings of uncertainty and fear, and it seemed almost impossible that we would ever find a way to return to the lives we once knew. 

But as I look back now on those days of uncertainty, it’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come. I am grateful to say that today, as I reflect on the worst times of the pandemic, what stands out to me most is the incredible innovation and collaboration that has taken place. Organizations across all industries came together to develop solutions to address the challenges posed by the pandemic, and it’s been nothing short of inspiring. As a data scientist, I had the privilege of being a part of one such project. 

I still vividly remember the day Lucira reached out to our team at Converge for help. Lucira, a medical device company, had developed an at-home PCR quality COVID-19 test that was approved by the FDA and CDC. They wanted to make the test available to the general public as an over-the-counter offering, but they needed a streamlined way to report the results rapidly to state and local health officials, as per the FDA standards. That’s where our team came in. 

We kicked off this project with a unique sense of urgency – time was of the essence, and we had to move fast. The runway for these types of projects is usually six to eight months, but Lucira needed the product to go live in just two months. We had our work cut out for us. 

Our solution was simple: a secure, text-based way for people with smartphones to receive a free LUCI Pass™ without downloading an app. The LUCI Pass is unique to Lucira and was developed to support their over-the-counter test kit. Users simply text a short code to access LUCI, and then go through a simple sequence of steps including scanning their test result to receive a LUCI Pass and verified test to their phone. This allowed users to quickly receive confirmation of their test results and share them with their lab partners via CLEAR.  

However, this was just the beginning. The ability to detect those test results required an AI solution, and so we set to work developing a compliance application with a visual AI model trained using powerful Dell servers, providing GPUs and high-capacity memory to train the AI model fast. We had to collect COVID-related data to update the model in real-time, resulting in continuous improvements while remaining in compliance with privacy regulations like GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA. 

It wasn’t easy, but we did it. We delivered the AI solution for Lucira’s at-home COVID-19 test in record time, enabling users to quickly receive confirmation of their test results for work and other needs. This allowed people to quickly and safely return to work, events, concerts, and games, confident in their at-home COVID-19 test results.  

The impact of this project cannot be overstated. The partnership with Converge and Dell enabled LUCIRA CHECK-IT to become the first FDA approved at home test kit. Together, we developed a solution that enables Lucira to reliably and seamlessly report results to the required public health authorities.  

As I reflect on the past three years, I feel a sense of pride in what we accomplished. Together with Lucira and Dell, we rose to the challenge and made a significant impact on the lives of millions of people. As a data scientist, this is the driving force behind the work that my team and I do. It wasn’t just another project for us, it was personal. It was about helping people feel safe returning to public spaces. It was about the frontline workers we were able to support. It was about working towards a better future for our families, our friends, and our communities. 

When it came down to it, it was about the people. And today, three years later, it is how I choose to look back and remember those first days of the global pandemic.  

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