COVID-19 Testing is Key During Pandemic
The first report regarding transmission of the novel coronavirus from the World Health Organization (WHO) was published on January 13, 2020. On January 28, WHO released an article regarding the steps taken by China to battle the coronavirus outbreak, and on January 30, the United States declared its own public health emergency. By mid-March, patients with symptoms of the disease now called COVID-19 began to fill our hospitals.
Early on, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency use authorization for COVID-19 tests created by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). These tests could be used in any CDC-certified laboratory, but as the tests were distributed throughout the United States, many labs found that the tests were unreliable and turnaround time for results was extremely slow. With the pandemic growing and the need for quick and accurate test results growing more critical, something had to give.
Jay Finigan, MD, director of The Respiratory Centers of Excellence at National Jewish Health, said, “We could see that there was a need for faster, more reliable testing. We were in a race with ourselves and the virus to build as large of a testing infrastructure as we could.”
In order to properly diagnose patients and keep health care providers safe, researchers and laboratorians at National Jewish Health worked 16 or more hours a day until a highly accurate SARS-CoV-2 test was ready for use on March 22, 2020.
“When National Jewish Health began testing for us, it was a game changer,” said Pete Schaad, vice president of operations at Saint Joseph Hospital. “We went from waiting seven or more days to get test results back, to knowing if a patient was COVID-19 positive in one or two days. Thanks to this strong partnership and improved turnaround times, we are able to be more agile in handling patient cohorting and care.”
With the pandemic under better control, both National Jewish Health and Saint Joseph Hospital are now seeing a return to care for patients, many of whom had put care on hold during the pandemic. As patients return, reliable and timely testing is essential to keeping patients and staff safe. Protocols at both institutions were established that require patients and visitors to be screened before entering our facilities, and some patients must be tested for COVID-19 and receive a negative result before they are able to be seen for certain appointments or procedures.
According to Lara Yourkin, associate executive director of National Jewish Health Advanced Diagnostic Laboratories, the labs currently are processing 1,200 COVID-19 tests a day, many of which are for National Jewish Health, Saint Joseph Hospital and SCL Health patients. “It’s important to get COVID-19 test results to patients as quickly as possible,” said Yourkin. “We are continuing to evaluate new testing methods, and are adding staff and bringing up new platforms to mitigate any supply chain issues. It’s an ongoing effort that we are running to stay ahead of.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, testing continues to be critical for all. Whether it be to properly identify a COVID-19 patient or to allow a patient to see their provider in-person, testing for COVID-19 is an important piece of the new normal protocol of health care.