UTHSC lab to process COVID-19 specimens in 24-hour turnaround time

UTHSC lab to process COVID-19 specimens in 24-hour turnaround time

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Shelby County Health Department said we are learning more about the spread of COVID-19 in the area because we’re testing more people.

We’re also learning about new lab capacity at UT Health Science Center that will significantly cut down on the turnaround time of some of those COVID-19 tests, which currently can take four to five days or even longer.

A drive thru testing site at Tiger Lane run by UTHSC, the city, and the county is nearing full ramp up. Officials with UTHSC said Wednesday alone they tested 131 patients, and in short order they will likely be testing 150 to 200 people there daily. It’s possible other locations could come online.

Their lab is also slated to make a big dent in the testing effort.

“We’ve been really fortunate and really proud of this. Our pathology team has developed in-house testing,” said Dr. Scott Strome, Executive Dean of the College of Medicine at UTHSC.

Testing for COVID-19 is a two-part process that requires a swab and analysis by a lab.

By this coming Monday, the lab at UTHSC will be able to process 1,000 to 1,500 samples per day. Leaders at the school said they anticipate accepting specimens from providers and hospital systems in the area, and this added volume could mean same-day results with a 24-hour maximum.

It's timing that could be pivotal in blunting COVID-19's local impact.

“Of course, the more people that get tested the more cases we will find,” said David Sweat, Chief of Epidemiology with the Shelby County Health Department.

UTHSC researchers are actively studying the virus in Memphis. Because of the university’s presence here officials said Memphis patients could have direct access to clinical drug trials that other parts of the county may not get.

“That’s what academic medicine is,” said Strome. “We’re here to treat the sickest patients and to collaborate with community partners, who also play an important role to really step up during times of need and help develop the cures for not only us but the rest of the country.”

Testing at Tiger Lane is by appointment only, and it is free for now, in collaboration with University Clinical Health. The testers are volunteer medical students who are supervised by faculty members.

Right now, UCH is under-writing the costs of the test, but that could change in the future.

“It’s expensive for us to keep doing that,” said Strome. “But we felt it was important so that every Memphian could be tested independent of their ability to pay.”

The College of Medicine at UTHSC has started a website, which takes questions from the public. The university is also offering a free two-hour online symposium on COVID-19 on April 6 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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