Nelson Miller Inc. President Jim Kaldem was at a meeting at one of the Los Angeles-based company's injection molding plants in Wisconsin when he was exposed to COVID-19.
Kaldem was getting ready for a road trip to hand-deliver a conceptual model of a virus-detecting device for the Opteev Technologies Inc. exhibit at CES 2022 in Las Vegas, the event formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show. After a colleague he met with contracted the infectious disease, Kaldem made an appointment to get tested. He then waited 90 minutes in a line of cars for the test to be administered and a while longer to find out he was negative.
The concept product that Kaldem drove to CES with Martin Schultz, Opteev's technical director, could change all that.
Baltimore-based Opteev is launching several new products under the ViraWarn brand that it says will instantly detect COVID-19 and other viruses in the air, be it in a room or on someone's breath.
"This could change the world. It makes things a lot simpler," Kaldem said in a phone interview, pointing out that he had an appointment for a test and still waited for more than an hour.
The device is still awaiting authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
Opteev's virus detection devices for indoor spaces will turn itself on when someone enters a room, continuously monitor it while people are there, and then give an alert to the presence of COVID-19 particles. The devices work like smoke detectors while smaller, individual scanners are like breathalyzers that look for viruses instead of alcohol.
ViraWarn products will let people know in as little as two to five seconds if they have been exposed to or infected by COVID-19 or influenza. Opteev is promoting the devices as giving users freedom, peace of mind and a return to normalcy.
COVID cases have skyrocketed in the U.S. since the arrival of the omicron variant, averaging 550,000 reported infections a day the first week of January. The latest surge is straining staffing levels for schools, hospitals and airlines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the omicron variant accounted for more than 95 percent of all new cases in the week that ended Jan. 1, which was up from 77 percent from the previous week.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the U.S. has recorded more than 57 million confirmed COVID-19 cases — or one for every six people in the country — and more than 829,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Opteev officials turned to a National Institutes of Health-supported laboratory for an analysis that showed one of its early products, ViraWarn's in-room devices called Liberty, offers nearly 100 percent efficacy at instantly detecting COVID-19 and its variants like omicron in the air.
The devices use patented sensor technology that focuses on the unique electrochemistry of spiked protein viruses, including COVID-19 and influenza, to trigger an alert.
The data from the NIH lab supports the company's internal findings, according to Biplab Pal, Opteev's chief technology officer and co-founder.
"ViraWarn will be a game-changer in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic," Pal said. "No more painful, irritating swabs; no more waiting for results. People can instantly screen themselves before entering a group gathering or after leaving a restaurant or public space. Children will be able to screen themselves when they come home from school or before visiting grandma's house. Our ViraWarn technology will finally create a return to normalcy in society and save countless lives in the process."
With the products on track for review from the Food and Drug Administration and Underwriters Laboratories, the engineering team at Nelson Miller is taking a breather as the processing and assembly teams gear up to produce the diagnostic devices that could be in demand for most households and businesses.
The ViraWarn products are going through an emergency authorization process at the FDA, and Kaldem said the UL process could take up to seven weeks. He doesn't know exactly when the company's production schedule will shift into high gear, but everyone in operations, sourcing and engineering is bracing themselves.
"We have been on tight timelines before but not to this scale," Kaldem said. "Usually ramp-ups are gradual. This one won't be."
Nelson Miller currently has 300 employees. Kaldem expects to hire up to 100 more people if the product rollout is met with high demand from buyers wanting to eliminate the uncertainty of infecting family and friends after going to church, a bar or restaurant; riding a bus; or taking an Uber.