Citi Debuts Rapid At-Home Covid Tests to Branch Workers, Traders

Citigroup Inc. has begun providing certain branch workers and traders with at-home rapid Covid-19 tests as part of a larger study with a researcher at Harvard University.

The lender has so far invited 1,000 of its workers -- including branch employees in the Chicago area and traders in New York -- to participate in the pilot. Citigroup is hoping to make the testing available to all of its branch workers in the coming weeks, which would bring the total number of employees involved to more than 6,000.

“Citi is thrilled to be part of this groundbreaking effort,” Dr. Lori Zimmerman, Citigroup’s corporate medical director, said in a blog post on Wednesday. “We will use the learnings from this initial pilot to inform Citi’s broader plans around at-home testing and our future return to office strategy.”

Here’s how it works: On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, employees involved in the study give themselves a rapid antigen test that’s provided by Innova Medical Group, the largest producer of such tests tests globally.

On those days, employees will swab the front part of their nose and drop it into a cassette. They’re guided through the self-testing process by Bella Health, a health-assessment app created by LivePerson.

Within 20 minutes, they’ll have their results, which can be read in a similar way to reading a pregnancy test. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, employees are still supposed to report symptoms and provide health information to the app.

“The goal of this study is to essentially, on the one hand, understand how people will use rapid tests at home,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard who’s the principal investigator of the study. “And how quickly the rapid tests will identify someone as infectious to prevent them from going to work that day and transmitting the virus.”

Studying Citi

For now, the study is limited to Citigroup. Since the tests being used aren’t yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Mina said he wants to see early results before inviting other companies to participate in the trial.

“The trial is just getting started but already we’re finding people who are infected before they would have been detected through symptom checks and they would have otherwise gone to work,” Mina said.

Citigroup workers who test positive using the antigen test will be directed to get a so-called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test, which is considered the gold standard in diagnostics.

Antigen tests are more rapid but they tend to be less accurate than PCR tests. Even so, at-home rapid antigen tests have proven popular among U.S. consumers. A recent national poll found 79% of adults would be willing to test themselves regularly at home with an antigen test if each cost $1.

Testing Importance

Even with countries in the midst of their biggest vaccination campaigns in global history, the results of the trial will be crucial for creating a blueprint for economies seeking to reopen and companies looking to bring workers back to their offices, Mina said.

“The vaccines are not going to be the end of this pandemic,” Mina said. “This virus is, in many ways, just getting started still. It’s just now showing what it can really do in terms of mutating, finding new ways to infect humans that can evade the immune system. So the more we vaccinate, the more likely it is we will start getting strands that are specifically evading vaccine-derived immunity. And we have to be prepared for that.”

Mina is also hoping the results can be useful for countries that might not have the type of access to vaccines that the U.S. does. That’s an area Citigroup has focused on before: The lender has been serving as a financial adviser to the COVAX Facility, which is part of a global initiative aimed at deploying Covid-19 vaccines on a fair and equitable basis.

“While there is real momentum behind vaccine distribution in the U.S., we know that frequent testing is one of the best tools we have at our disposal today for helping to decrease the transmission of Covid-19,” Zimmerman said. “The science is clear: Frequent use of low-cost, simple, rapid tests is highly effective in identifying people who are currently infectious, even if they are asymptomatic.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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