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'Crush The Curve': Businesses launch initiative to increase coronavirus testing capacity in Idaho

The goal is to test all essential workers in the state to avoid the inadvertent spread of COVID-19, and to "get Idahoans back to work."

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Assess. Test. Trace.

Those are the three steps at the heart of "Crush The Curve," an initiative launched Tuesday by several Idaho businesses to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

So far, that second step -- the testing -- has been done for less than one percent of Idaho's population, according to the state's coronavirus website.

"We have been woefully under-testing in Idaho," said Dr. Tommy Ahlquist, CEO of BVA Development, which owns Saltzer Health. "I am proud of the coalition of business leaders who have stepped up to solve a problem at a time of crisis."

Ahlquist said he started contacting business associates about starting the initiative Thursday night, after finding out about a similar effort in Utah. He said they've been working around the clock since then to get ready for Tuesday's rollout.

With the goal of testing all Idaho workers deemed "essential," Crush The Curve is working to increase the availability of testing. The initiative's focus is on healthcare workers involved in direct patient care, including home health and senior care workers; first responders; grocery and convenience store workers; food service workers; and delivery drivers who come in contact with the public.

"We know that 25 percent of asymptomatic carriers, COVID-positive people, may not know they even have the disease, yet we're not even testing our most vulnerable front-line workers. That's what this effort's about," Ahlquist said.

He added, "if we want to get back to work, we need to figure this out."

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The new Crush The Curve website provides a road map for those who are finding it difficult to get tested and get timely results. That site is live now.

First, you're asked to take an assessment to see if you qualify as an essential worker, and if a participating testing site is located near you.

If you qualify for a test, you will be called and scheduled.

If you test positive, your test results will be sent to the state so they can trace who you have been in contact with.

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

People who are ill with symptoms of COVID-19 or are over the age of 60 are advised to consult with a doctor as soon as possible.

The Crush The Curve team "will be actively sourcing antibody tests for the people of Idaho," a news release states, adding that they have secured 1,000 daily COVID-19 tests for essential workers starting Wednesday.

The antibody test will determine if a person has built up an immunity to the coronavirus and is safe to re-engage in the community.

Crush The Curve will coordinate testing all over Idaho.

In the Treasure Valley, Saltzer Health will administer Crush The Curve tests at its two Nampa urgent care locations, or by arrangement at the workplace "where appropriate."

Ahlquist answered several viewer questions about Crush The Curve Tuesday afternoon on KTVB's News at Four.

Along with BVA Development and Saltzer Health, Crush The Curve founding companies include Ball Ventures, Albertsons, Tovuti, Clearwater Analytics, Jacksons Food Stores, Blue Cross of Idaho, Idaho Central Credit Union, Teton Auto Group, B & T Hospitality, Old Boise, Zennify, Woodgrain, Athlos, A10 Capital and Brighton Corporation.

"We are doing our best to navigate this crisis, but we need testing. We need action. And we need a pathway back to work while keeping our people safe," said ICCU CEO Kent Oram.

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