Local companies teaming up to make rapid COVID-19 tests in Ocala

Two local companies are coming together to make rapid COVID-19 tests in an effort to get people back into businesses and enjoying entertainment venues safely.

Ocala-based contract manufacturer Artemis Plastics and Monarch Global Health, headquartered in Brevard County, say they are the only factory in Florida poised to make rapid COVID-19 antigen tests.

Monarch Global Health CEO Kristen Kohl said the 15-minute test would screen someone for coronavirus. She said they have applied for FDA Emergency Use Authorization for the rapid antigen test and expect to get it within a week or two.

MORE NEWS: Orange County 'strike teams' target theme parks not following CDC guidelines

Currently, Kohl said they are making up to 50,000 rapid COVID-19 antibody tests a day at Artemis Plastics and selling them to labs.

“There was a need,” said Kohl, who also owns spas, salons, and cosmetology schools. “I was like, how are we going to get everybody back to doing hair and how are we going to do facials and making the students feel safe to touch faces.”

Kohl said after meeting someone who had the ingredients for the rapid antigen tests she brought together a group to make it in Ocala. Kohl said up until now it’s only been manufactured overseas.

MORE NEWS: Mount Dora woman says Lake County dispatcher took too long to send out ambulance for husband

“We don’t really make a lot of things here, especially medically,” Kohl said. “We make the entire kit here. We have a clean room here. Everything is made here at Artemis.”

“We mold the parts, we pad-print the parts, we get into the clean room, we cut the strips, place the strips, close the units, pouch them, box them and get them ready for distribution,” said Artemis CEO Gary Mishkin.

Mishkin said once the FDA Emergency Use Authorization comes through they plan on starting operations at a second, nearly 30,000 square foot facility, that will be solely dedicated to making rapid COVID-19 tests. He said the hope is to make up to one million tests a week and they plan on hiring 100-200 new employees to achieve that goal.

While Kohl did not disclose any names, she said several businesses are already lined up to purchase the rapid antigen tests. She said businesses can decide how they want to use them but the idea is for people wanting to enter businesses to be screened at entrances using a rapid antigen test and a health questionnaire.

“Let’s say you don’t have any symptoms. You want to go to a sporting event, you test negative, you’ll be able to go to that [event],” Kohl explained. “It’s to get people back into sporting events, into schools, into Disney, into the amusement parks, into cruise ships.”

“We’re very excited about a local company getting involved in a broad program of, how do we clear people to continue to go to large events,” said Florida State Senator Dennis Baxley (R-12).

He represents Marion County where Ocala is located. Senator Baxley said he thinks using rapid tests in this manner is the wave of the future.

MORE NEWS: Medical examiner confirms identity of body found in car as missing Belle Isle mother

“I think the real engagement is not hiding away and fearing this virus but stepping out and engaging how are we going to manage it.”

Dr. Jason Littleton of Little Concierge Medicine said the rapid antigen test has an FDA Emergency Use Authorization but it is not completely FDA approved.

“These tests really help you locate people who are concerned or have symptoms about COVID-19.”

Dr. Littleton said people who get a positive rapid antigen test still need to get the longer, diagnostic PCR test to confirm they have the Coronavirus.

“I think people really are trying to use it to try and screen who needs to be further be tested and that’s a good thing because I think it can limit PCR tests and I think it can help streamline the process,” Dr. Littleton said.